The City Council remains deeply divided on the question of whether it should ban the use of consumer fireworks on Oahu, revisiting many of the same arguments that have been raised every time the proposal has come up, practically on an annual basis.
There are no new arguments being raised against the ban that outweigh the rationale for enacting one, reasons that only intensify with each passing year. More people diagnosed with respiratory illnesses. More people spending nervous nights worrying whether an illicit aerial pyrotechnic will land and set their property ablaze.
More people, period. The freewheeling approach of Oahu residents toward their New Year’s Eve and, less prominently, Fourth of July celebrations may have worked well enough in the day when there were fewer people living in close quarters.
But by 2010, a virtually uncontrolled use of consumer fireworks has led a growing number to recognize that a new policy more suited to the realities of an urban population is long overdue. The Legislature this year decided each county should decide the issue on its own turf and Bill 34, the measure seeking a total ban, is Honolulu’s answer to the challenge.
In a vote tomorrow, Council members should advance it toward final passage, recognizing the room for improvement within that legislation as well as in future refinements.
Addressing some of the common complaints about the bill:
» It does not expressly include regulations that would enable exceptions for cultural events and practices. Language to authorize the creation of new permitting rules could be included in the bill easily, with those regs to be hammered out in consultation with law enforcement, firefighters and community groups.
The public can testify at 2 p.m. tomorrow in the City Council Chamber on Bill 34, regulating the use of fireworks. Speakers can register online (www.honolulu.gov/council/attnspkph.htm) or e-mail testimony (www.honolulu.gov/council/emailph.htm). Or, call 768-3814 to sign up to speak.
» It attacks practices that are not the principal problem. Though most of the accusatory fingers do point instead at the aerials, this critique ignores that the volume of firecrackers and novelty items do contribute significantly to the smoky air, a real health problem for many people.
» Not enough has been done to enforce the existing ban on aerials. But if the overall inventory of imported aerials drops dramatically – which a total ban certainly would accomplish by reducing the potential for contraband within shipments – then police could turn their attention in a more focused way toward these offenders. The experts are the police, who all assert that there are simply too many scofflaws out there for their limited resources to cover.
There are many variations that could move Oahu closer to a livable fireworks policy. Some of them already are cropping up in discussions among the mayoral candidates, including devising a cultural-use permitting system in a separate measure or instituting a sunset for the ban and allowing the issue to be revisited.
But inaction is simply no longer an option. "Give enforcement a chance," say opponents to the ban. That already has happened: Enforcement is a practical impossibility under current conditions. Clearly, the status quo is not working.
Tomorrow’s vote by the Council offers an opportunity to move off the dime at last and find a new approach. Our elected leaders should take it.