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Fireworks ordinance up in smoke

The county's proposed stiffer rule is in limbo as the Legislature weighs a hold on new rules.

A Pasco County proposal to make it tougher to buy and sell fireworks has stalled as Florida lawmakers push a moratorium against stiffer local laws.

"You can basically put it on the shelf and let it collect dust," county Commissioner Michael Cox said of Pasco's proposed ordinance, which he spearheaded.

Mimicking Pinellas County, Pasco would have required sellers to get permits from the Sheriff's Office. Buyers would have to show proof they have a legal use for fireworks. Sellers would have to document buyer's identities and details on all sales, and make the records available for inspection.

And the county would have folded all fireworks tents: Sales would be allowed only in buildings with sprinkler systems.

If approved in a vote as early as next month, all of the measures would take effect Dec. 1.

But the Senate approved a bill Thursday stopping any new local laws that interfere with the "right to purchase, sell, use, or possess consumer fireworks in this state." New fireworks stores also could not be built. The moratorium would last at least 10 months, until the Legislature reviews a task force report due Jan. 15.

A companion bill is nearing a final vote in the House. Cox expects it to pass with little risk of a veto.

Florida law restricts the use of fireworks to mostly mining and farming activities, such as shooing birds from fish hatcheries. Yet people regularly buy fireworks besides legal sparklers, particularly around July 4 and New Year's Eve, and shoot them off for fun. All they have to do is sign a form promising they're using fireworks legally.

"Nobody's happy" with the law, said Todd Pressman, a Clearwater lobbyist for fireworks sellers.

Sellers complain the law is too vague on which fireworks are exempt, while fire officials and safety advocates say illegal fireworks are obtained too easily. The task force created by the bills could look for solutions, he said.

"My understanding is it's going to put everything on hold and allow them to work toward a solution," Pressman said.

Residents of west Pasco neighborhoods, which include Cox's district, have complained for years about noise and spent fireworks ending up in their yards. In the past, commissioners held off on pursuing tougher requirements because they questioned how they would be enforced.

But Cox revived the issue in January with support from Sheriff Bob White, who said stiffer rules would curb complaints.

Fireworks industry members say Pasco's proposal would simply shift sales to other counties. Instead, the county should enforce its noise ordinance and other laws, Pressman said.

Cox said he will ask commissioners and county staff at Tuesday's board meeting whether Pasco could step up enforcement without passing a new ordinance.

"When it's the Fourth of July and the e-mails start flying in, I'll forward them to [Senate President] Ken Pruitt," Cox said.

David DeCamp can be reached at (727) 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.

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