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Florida lawmakers are poised to legalize fireworks — for these days only

Real fireworks have been illegal in the state since 1941.
 
Fireworks light up the sky as seen looking east from the bridge between Channelside and Harbour Island.
Fireworks light up the sky as seen looking east from the bridge between Channelside and Harbour Island. [ Times (2012) ]
Published March 9, 2020|Updated March 9, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — It’s been 79 years since Floridians were legally allowed to shoot off fireworks. But the state’s flimsy laws haven’t stopped many from blasting bottle rockets and firecrackers anyway.

Now, state lawmakers are preparing to allow the full use of fireworks on three days each year: New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and July 4.

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill permitting their use, and the House was prepared to take up that version of the bill later today. The legislation could head to the governor’s desk this week.

“Before session started I promised fireworks, and I’m now delivering on that,” Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, told senators on Friday.

Because of the prevalence of fireworks on July 4 and New Year’s Eve, the state’s laws prohibiting fireworks are widely considered absurd.

Currently, sparklers, noisemakers and similar products are legal. Real fireworks — the ones that explode or shoot into the sky — aren’t. The legislation would keep the ban on them for the other 362 days of the year.

Related: Yes, most fireworks are illegal in Florida. No, that doesn't stop anyone. Here's why.

The absurd part in Florida, though, is how easy it is to get around state restrictions and buy real fireworks. You just have to sign a form declaring, under penalty of perjury, that you’ll use them for purposes such as “frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries” or for “railroads or transportation agencies for signal purposes or illumination.”

Floridians have used the exceptions to buy real fireworks, and the toll has been high. People are injured or killed by the fireworks every year. On New Year’s Eve, a Deltona man severed his hand after lighting a firework in his car. On July 4 last year, two Broward County men died in separate incidents. The year before, a 16-year-old Tampa boy died when a mortar-style firework exploded in his hand.

Fireworks have started nearly 300 fires in the last two years, causing nearly $800,000 in damage. Still, no lawmakers voiced concern about how fireworks might lead to more wildfires. Nearly half of Florida is forested.

The Fire Chiefs Association opposes expanding the use of fireworks. Cities and counties came out against it as well, fearing they wouldn’t be able to enforce their own fireworks restrictions. The bills were amended to not supersede local ordinances.

Originally, the bill would have allowed fireworks on Memorial Day as well, but lawmakers decided to limit the days they’re allowed to three.

Related: Firework that killed Tampa teen illegal but available

“I believe Floridians should be allowed to enjoy their holidays and not be confused or discouraged by Florida law,” Hutson said.

The only change lawmakers made to the bill on Friday was dealing with homeowners associations. The associations won’t be allowed to ban fireworks unless it’s explicitly spelled out in their covenants.

“There are neighborhood associations that think that they can place rules and disallow individuals from wanting to exercise their patriotic duty and scare birds or fish away from their property by a rule when not in their covenant,” said Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, who sponsored the amendment.