Lawmaker moves to legalize fireworks, police voice concern


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Thousands of people filled Reiman Gardens on July 3, 2014 for the Ames sesquicentennial celebration and Independence Day fireworks.

Alex Hanson

This year’s Fourth of July celebrations may be a bit louder in Iowa if one lawmaker has his way this legislative session.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, has crafted a bill that would legalize the sale and use of fireworks in the state, a practice that has been banned for more than seven decades in Iowa.

“Bills have been drafted in both the House and Senate. The versions are essentially similar. But as always, they will have to say the same thing by the time we send it down to the governor,” Danielson said. “Iowa has a heads-in-the-sand policy when it comes to fireworks. We allow Iowans to posses fireworks, but we don’t let them use them.”

Danielson said without any new legislation, Iowa does not have any public education and safety measures put in place to manage the use of fireworks already being used illegally.

“My bill would legalize fireworks in a limited, responsible way,” Danielson said. “It would allow Iowans to use and posses them. We go through a number of parameters in the bill-like type of products [legal to use], regulations on who can sell them, etcetera. I think it’s time for Iowa to address the inconsistencies in the current law.”

Support is bipartisan, Danielson said. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate are supporting the bill.

“I do have a responsibility to offer a solution to a problem that I think we have given the current law,” Danielson said. “I feel good that people will be open-minded about it and in the end, it has potential to get broad, bipartisan support.”

Gov. Terry Branstad’s office would not comment on what specifically the governor would support.

“The governor would carefully review the legislation in its final form should it pass both chambers of the legislature,” said Jimmy Centers, communications director for Branstad. “He would need to see the legislation in its final form.”

Jason Tuttle, investigations commander for the Ames Police Department, said the department is mostly concerned about safety when using fireworks and any risks to property when fireworks are not used responsibly.

Tuttle added that the department sees the most issues with fireworks during holidays, mostly July 4, adding that the department does not have enough resources to respond to every complaint that is called in about fireworks.

“If we see someone light off a Roman candle at 3 a.m. on Welch Ave., obviously we are going to respond,” Tuttle said, saying that a lot of complaints come in around the city of fireworks being used at homes.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks were the cause of almost 18,000 fires in 2011 in the U.S., including 1,200 structure fires, 400 vehicle fires and 16,300 outside fires.

Those fires resulted in $32 million in direct property damage, according to data from 2011 from the National Fire Protection Association, and 2 in 5 fires on the Fourth of July are related to fireworks.

In 2012, emergency rooms in the U.S. treated 8,700 people for injuries related to fireworks, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“I think safety is the biggest thing,” Tuttle said. “People can be injured by shooting them off. You see in other states that have legalized fireworks, you have higher rates of injuries.

While the use of fireworks for personal entertainment remains against the law, Tuttle added that permits could be obtained for use during special events.

The Iowa legislator has several months left in the session to consider fireworks legislation.