A bill to legalize audible and aerial fireworks in Minnesota has started off with a “bang” in this year’s legislative session.
Gov. Tim Walz recently voiced support for the bill, which would expand the types of fireworks people over 18 years old can buy in the state, including bottle rockets and Roman candles. Some people say legalizing this type of pyrotechnics will bring revenue back to the state, while others are concerned about increases in injuries and fire hazards.
Steve Haines is a partner and co-founder of Bear Creek Pyrotechnics in Hinckley. He estimates that expanding legalized fireworks would increase his revenue tenfold or twentyfold.
“It would change everything for my business,” Haines said.
Bear Creek specializes in building and executing fireworks shows. If the law passes, Bear Creek may add retail locations and increase its number of employees.
“I think, quite frankly, it's ridiculous (they’re) not legal here because everybody who wants them, has them,” Haines said.
This reason is, in part, why state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, introduced the legislation. He first introduced a fireworks bill in 2016 and has continued advocating for it since.
“People who want to use them are using them. And Minnesota is losing the revenue from (that),” he said. The bill, if passed, would bring back revenue lost from fireworks stands and businesses located right across the border, he said.
Wayne Kewitsch, chief of the Richfield Fire Department and representative of the Minnesota Fire Association Coalition, opposes the bill. Fireworks “indisputably” cause injuries and fires, he said at a Senate committee meeting.
“This proposal would legalize the recreational use of explosives. We believe the use of explosives should be left to professionals,” Kewitsch said.
Walz said at a press conference he would likely sign the fireworks bill if it reaches his desk, but he would want to hear from experts first.
“I grew up … sitting on the South Dakota border. I grew up around fireworks. I do think I’d support people's rights to buy these things,” he said.
Rarick’s bill dictates that a quarter of the revenue from fireworks sales tax go to volunteer fire assistance grants, while another 25% goes to a fire safety account.
There’s also a provision in the bill that limits the use of fireworks to the hours between noon-10 p.m. or 90 minutes past sunset, whichever time is later.
“That way local authorities, I believe, would be more willing to respond to those late-night calls, because they're not going to be bothered all evening leading up to it,” Rarick said.
Rarick doesn’t believe that the state will see a major increase in audible and aerial fireworks use, as everyone who wants to use them is already doing so, he said.
Kewitsch disagrees. “I would caution that legalization would dramatically increase their use, and thus increase the number of injuries and fires,” he said at the meeting. “You legalize it, we’re going to see an increase in people trying it out.”
The Senate version of the bill includes wording that would allow local jurisdictions to ban fireworks in their communities. The bill also lets people or groups sell fireworks for 45 days or less out of a temporary structure. Those who sell for more days would have to sell out of a permanent structure.
Kewitsch said there are challenges when protecting permanent structures that people sell fireworks out of, he told the committee.
Rarick’s Senate bill was referred to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee earlier this week. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Rep. John Huout, DFL-Rosemount, and was referred to the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee.