A proposal to repeal Florida's longstanding restrictions on the sale of fireworks remains alive in the House after lawmakers Tuesday addressed some safety concerns raised by industry giants fighting the change.
The House Commerce Committee voted 15-11 to support the measure (HB 6037), which would repeal a prohibition on the sale and use of fireworks.
Bill sponsor James Grant, R-Tampa, argued the change is needed to open the fireworks market. State law since 2007 has limited the number of permanent retail facilities and temporary tent locations.
"The way previous legislation was enacted ensured no new retail facilities unless they were currently engaged in sales in March of 2007 or if they had already begun construction, after receiving site approval, in 2007," Grant said. "So this bill does a couple of things: It opens up and introduces the free market."
The House bill also would end a much-exploited agriculture "loophole" that has allowed people to buy fireworks if they sign a form attesting they are buying the flying and exploding devices to scare birds.
Grant called the form "an insurance policy for retailers."
The 3rd District Court of Appeal has held that it is not the responsibility of a seller to check the veracity of a buyer's form.
Companies that sell fireworks in the state raised objections to the bill.
Michael Dobson, representing Phantom Fireworks, said in eliminating the form, the proposal wouldn't address age limits on who can buy fireworks.
"Minors cannot contract, they cannot sign a waiver," Dobson said.
Ken Pruitt, a former Senate president now lobbying for Sky King Fireworks, said the current regulations don't make it difficult for people to find fireworks and that the 2007 changes were enacted to keep out "black market" roadside fireworks vendors that would set up before Independence Day and New Year's Eve.
"Whenever you just open it up to anybody, if you think for a moment (the Department of Revenue) is going to find that person on the roadside, and many may not have collected sales tax, they're going to be gone July 5," Pruitt said.
Before the vote, Grant removed from his proposal a line that would have preempted local governments from being able to adopt "reasonable" rules and regulations on the public display of fireworks. Grant also removed language to end an annual requirement that the state fire marshal test sparklers.
Fireworks industry representatives expressed support for a Senate measure (SB 198) that includes such things as prohibiting the sale of fireworks to anyone under age 18 and authorizing the state fire marshal to adopt rules governing fireworks.
The Senate proposal has idled since receiving support from the Regulated Industries Committee in October.