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City Council advances total fireworks ban

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A woman who did not want to be identified listened to representatives from the Honolulu Police Department testify yesterday at the City Council chambers on a measure to ban all consumer fireworks.

A total ban on consumer fireworks would not stop the problem of illegally imported fireworks overnight, but it could serve as a deterrent and reduce the supply, Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha told City Council members yesterday.

"It’s not going to be a magic wand, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction," Kealoha said. "It’s going to substantially reduce accessibility and supply and use of fireworks."

Kealoha attempted to address concerns on enforcement as the City Council voted on a measure to ban all consumer fireworks, including firecrackers and sparklers.

Despite some concerns over enforceability and the potential to undercut some traditional cultural practices, City Council members advanced the proposal by an 8-1 vote.

Bill 34 now goes back to committee for further vetting and crafting.

Some members said they voted in favor of the measure only to keep discussion alive.

"Beyond today, I’m undecided," said Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who raised concerns about enforceability.

Councilman Rod Tam cast the sole vote in opposition, saying the issue needs to be studied further to address health and safety concerns while also allowing the use of fireworks for cultural practices.

Councilman Gary Okino, who introduced the proposal, said the issue of enforcement surrounding illegal aerials and other large explosive devices was distracting from the core issue of public safety and health.

"Clearly now, consumer fireworks are a bigger threat," he said. "It creates more smoke. It creates more fires. It’s directly in the hands of those young people who may not have the ability to use it safely."

The Council debated the issue for about 90 minutes, taking testimony from more than a dozen people.

Retailers and others argued against the ban, saying it adds nothing to aid enforcement and also intrudes on cultural practices.

Jerry Farley, executive director for the Washington state-based Consumer Fireworks Safety Association and government affairs representative for American Promotional Events, a fireworks wholesaler, said the ban would have no effect on those who import, sell, purchase, possess and use illegal aerials.

"Do not take the rights of the majority of away because of the misuse and illegal use by few," Farley said.

Supporters of the ban included state Rep. Marilyn Lee, who was among the strongest supporters of a statewide fireworks ban in the Legislature.

Councilman Romy Cachola took issue with the state passing the burden of implementing a ban to the counties.

Lee said many members of the House supported a statewide ban, but she was not sure the support was there in the Senate. The Legislature instead passed a measure calling for a task force to study the issue of illegal fireworks while also giving counties the authority to enact more stringent fireworks laws.

"I don’t mean to dump this in your lap," said Lee (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka). "What passed, passed, and now you have the opportunity to do the right thing."

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