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Refine fireworks bill before next election

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The Fourth of July holiday looms, bringing pyrotechnics that present the year’s biggest challenge to firefighters across the country. It’s also the busiest weekend for the Honolulu Fire Department.

A familiar discussion replays each year: Why can’t the people in charge do something about the lawbreakers? The people who import illegal aerial fireworks, and those who use them? The ones who otherwise flout the rules by exploding their stash days and weeks outside the allowed time period?

They can take action, but they’ve lacked the political will to do what’s necessary: Ban everything short of sparklers and benign consumer items. That’s the only means of reducing inventory enough so that police can realistically crack down on contraband that surely will slip in.

State lawmakers took a pass on enacting such a ban statewide but did open the door for each county to decide how tough rules would be on any given island. The Honolulu City Council lost no time to take its shot. Even before Gov. Linda Lingle signed the legislation enabling county action, Bill 34 was introduced on Oahu.

As written, it has little chance of passage because it eliminates every kind of consumer pyrotechnic item, even sparklers. There is space left for exceptions that would permit cultural uses of fireworks, but the terms have not been spelled out.

This is excessively restrictive, and reasonable exceptions are needed for items low on the firepower scale. But the Council should preserve the basic intent, reserving the more explosive fireworks for public displays—imported, stored, sold and used by licensed professionals with a permit.

Calls for a fireworks ban intensified this year, following a New Year’s holiday in which 112 people, half of them children, were treated in hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Lobbying by the fireworks importing and retail industries was also intense, and it continues before Council members.

Councilman Gary Okino said he’s unsure of how the votes are arrayed, but already there are signs of division on the Council. The fireworks lobbyists say police could do more to enforce the current law, while fire and police officials agree that violations have far outpaced what law enforcement can control.

Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth Silva told the Star-Advertiser that he plans to ask at the slated July 1 hearing that a working group be named to seek some kind of consensus and ultimately make recommendations to the Public Safety Committee on crafting a bill that can pass.

Such a working group could be useful as long as it’s given a short deadline. Otherwise it’s merely a delay tactic to push a sensitive issue past the coming election.

Any new law should be in place in time to make the next New Year’s Eve more of a pleasant celebration and less of a fire and health hazard to be endured.

That may seem harsh to those whose fireworks traditions go back generations. But anyone making an honest assessment has to admit that fireworks consumption has grown along with the population.

What hasn’t expanded is the living space. This is still an island, one that can no longer accommodate fireworks left, in every practical sense, uncontrolled.


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