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Lawmaker seeks ban on fireworks sales in northern Arizona

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PHOENIX – Fearing errant sparks and the potential for wildfires, a Prescott lawmaker is seeking to ban the sale of consumer fireworks in two northern Arizona counties.

“I love fireworks like anyone else,” said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott. “But like anything in life, you have to be prudent. Regardless of what the cause is – whether it’s a match or cigarette or as firework – we have a very heightened awareness of fire dangers.”

Under current law, cities or towns may regulate the use – but not the sale – of fireworks such as sparklers and fountains. Counties can regulate the use of fireworks only in unincorporated areas, and only if there is a heightened risk of wildfire in the area.

Supporters of the Fann’s HB 2361, which the House passed and sent to the Senate Tuesday, contend municipalities can outlaw fireworks use all they want but that the sparks won’t stop until sales are banned.

“When you allow sales but not use, it’s like telling a 14–year–old it’s OK to buy cigarettes but you can’t smoke them,” Fann told a House committee last month.

Fann’s bill was originally written to allow local governments to regulate the sale and use of fireworks, but an amendment added by the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee changed the bill to mirror SB 1364, a fireworks–regulation bill introduced by Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert.

The new HB 2361 would prohibit the sale and use of fireworks in counties with populations of fewer than 500,000 people with between 2.5 million and 5 million acres of federal land. That limits the ban to Coconino and Yavapai counties.

The amended bill also includes two new provisions based on concerns raised by the fireworks industry.

First, it calls for the creation of standardized signs to be posted in all retail facilities selling fireworks, warning buyers of possible regional restrictions and outlining the state’s 16–or–older age requirements. Secondly, it prohibits a municipality or county from punishing someone who purchases or uses state-approved fireworks with a penalty greater than a petty offense.

The latter provision was recommended after some municipalities made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use even Arizona–approved fireworks, said Mike Williams, a lobbyist who represents TNT Fireworks and helped write the first fireworks legalization bill.

“Class 1 is way out of line with what the statute should be,” Williams said. “That ranks fireworks with prostitution, assault and DUI.”

There have been no forest fires caused by the fireworks that Arizona legalized last year, but Fann said she doesn’t want to take any chances.

“It’s not like throwing a cigarette out a window or making sure your campfire is put out,” Fann said. “With fireworks, you don’t have control over every spark that goes flying.”

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and the County Supervisors Association of Arizona opposed the amendment to Fann’s bill, requesting that all counties be able to regulate the sale of fireworks, not just two.

“Personally, I’m a firm believer in local control as much as possible,” Fann said. “But I’m hoping we can still work on this. Maybe there’s a happy medium.”