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Iowa Legislature OKs firework sales, sends bill to Branstad

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 10:59 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Expect a few more pops and flashes this July Fourth thanks to a final vote Tuesday on legislation allowing fireworks sales in Iowa.

The bill approved 56-41 by the Iowa House would legalize consumer-grade fireworks, including bottle rockets, firecrackers and roman candles. The explosives could be sold from June 1 through July 8 and from Dec. 10 through Jan. 3 in permanent structures or tents, though the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said that the majority of licenses issued will be for temporary retailers.

Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill. After the Iowa Senate approved the legislation, Branstad noted that few states remain so restrictive about fireworks.

Republican Rep. Matt Windschitl, the bill’s floor manager, declared the legislative approval of firework sales as an enhancement of Iowa’s freedoms, but some Democrats and Republicans were hesitant when discussing the possible consequences of the move, noting safety concerns and added hardships for individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Emergency medical responders have expressed concern that widespread firework use will increase related injuries. Rep. Timothy Kacena, a Sioux City Democrat, spoke as a retired firefighter about his experience treating hand injuries, eye injuries and burns.

“You cannot control fireworks,” he said during House debate. “They have a mind of their own. Once it’s lit, you can’t pull it back.”

Under the bill, local governments could forbid the use of fireworks, but not the sale of them. The bill would generate an estimated $1.5 million in sales tax revenue for the 2018 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Rep. Dave Maxwell, a Vietnam veteran, said he would vote no on the bill because of the impact explosive noises can have on veterans with PTSD.

“I don’t think the freedom to shoot fireworks and a few tax dollars are worth what we expect our veterans to pay,” the Gibson Republican said.

Rep. Mary Mascher, an Iowa City Democrat, asked lawmakers to support “common sense” provisions to keep people safe. All proposed amendments failed, including bans on using fireworks while inebriated and allowing local governments to ban the sale of fireworks.

“We should make it as safe as possible,” Mascher said. “What we legislate against is stupid ideas and stupid people who make bad choices and bad decisions.”

Iowa has prohibited the use of certain fireworks in the state since 1938, a ban that Mascher said was sparked by a 1931 fire in Spencer. According to Clay County Heritage, a history museum in Spencer, the fire occurred when someone holding a sparkler dropped it into a pile of fireworks, which exploded and caused the town to burn.

Ryan Odor, the executive director for the center, said the historic Spencer fire was part of the conversation when fireworks were originally banned in Iowa, but that it has become a legend over time in the state. For Iowa legislators, the infamous tale was not enough to outweigh the step toward expanding firework legalization.

“The Fourth of July — what do you think about? Fun, freedom and fireworks,” Windschitl said.

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