Fireworks ordinance confining
The proposed fireworks ordinance introduced by Altoona City Council on April 10 is laudable in its intent but might not be enough to avoid a repeat of the dangerous, irresponsible fireworks mayhem that the city experienced last July 4.
The city is limited in what new fireworks provisions it may implement under the updated state fireworks statute passed by the General Assembly in the fall of 2017.
However, city leaders would be remiss — actually, irresponsible — if they didn’t try to adapt the new state law better to Altoona’s geography, housing density and other important realities, to help ensure a safe Independence Day 2019 celebration.
Considering the slow pace of accomplishment in Harrisburg’s governmental chambers, there’s no guarantee that the Legislature will be able to fix acknowledged flaws in the less-than-two-year-old fireworks law in time for this year’s July holiday.
Mirror articles reporting on last year’s Independence Day observance, plus a Mirror editorial last Aug. 31 urging that the Legislature address obvious shortsightedness in the new law, noted that some homes and other structures, along with some city residents, were exposed to dangers as a result of some individuals’ irresponsible fireworks conduct.
An April 11 Mirror report described that conduct as a “pyrotechnical fusillade that marred Independence Day.”
When the state liberalized fireworks rules in late 2017, it began allowing consumer use of such previously prohibited items as firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets, although the new law continues to prohibit M-80s, blockbusters and cherry bombs from being used by anyone who doesn’t hold a professional fireworks license.
As most area residents are well aware, past prohibitions oftentimes were ignored, and restrictions still in place will continue to be ignored, because law enforcement lacks the manpower to fully police the fireworks situation.
Because of that enforcement reality, the proposed fireworks ordinance that the city council has introduced has the main focus of prohibiting fireworks use between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. — good by most people’s standards.
Responsible, law-abiding people — the big bulk of city residents — won’t violate such a reasonable restriction.
According to the April 11 Mirror report, the proposed ordinance also reiterates points in the state law, two of which prohibit use of fireworks within 150 feet of occupied structures and on any property where the owner hasn’t given consent for fireworks to be used.
That provision includes public property.
Altoona council members have adequate time to pass the ordinance by Memorial Day, but Mayor Matt Pacifico is correct that enforcement still will be, in his words, a “nightmare,” going forward, unless the state law is scaled back and fines are increased to make violations significantly more costly.
The mayor also was correct when he stated that what’s ultimately needed is “common sense” by people who choose to use fireworks.
It’s important to note that the city is not permitted to ban fireworks that the state law permits.
The General Assembly wasn’t wrong in updating the former fireworks statute, but it was remiss in not giving enough thought to unwanted issues that might evolve.
Even with 2019-20 state budget preparation still underway, lawmakers have adequate time to correct some of the new law’s shortcomings, if they really are committed to doing so.