Fireworks rules need addressed

Altoona — and, presumably, more than a few other Keystone State municipalities, particularly the larger ones — have experienced unwanted impacts from the law passed last fall that liberalized Pennsylvania’s antiquated fireworks rules.

It’s obvious now that the Legislature failed to adequately consider many of the potential problems that could emanate from the wording of the measure that was enacted.

While updating the law seemed like a reasonable idea when it was under consideration, now that the new measure has had time to play out, particularly in July on Independence Day, it’s become evident that there’s a big flaw in it.

That flaw is the lack of a window for Altoona and other places to implement certain restrictions within the general framework of the law to accommodate their own needs — especially those connected with ensuring general safety, plus basic consideration of other people’s rights.

Some homes and other structures — also, some city residents — were exposed to dangers as a result of the city’s inability under the new law to set guidelines fitting the city’s geography, housing density and other important facets.

A city isn’t like a township, where most homes are significant distances apart.

A city isn’t like most boroughs, which usually have fewer structures housing numerous individual living units, as is common in a city environment.

Lawmakers were remiss in not properly factoring in such realities when they granted legal status to some fireworks that formerly were illegal.

Altoona City Council is employing responsible judgment by calling attention to the new law’s big defect at this time, rather than waiting until next spring or summer.

By then, it might be too late for the Legislature to act on revisions or amendments that adequately address current concerns.

In addition, local officials are right in deciding to align with an attempt by the Pennsylvania Municipal League to persuade the General Assembly to allow municipalities to add local restrictions based upon their individual needs.

Local officials believe that the law, as currently on the books, provides virtually no window for cities, boroughs and townships to address their individual realities.

Based on Altoona’s July 4 experience, during which numerous newly legal fireworks, and many that continue to be illegal, were used irresponsibly — and, in some cases, dangerously — having a window for adding restrictions within the new law’s parameters makes sense.

The fireworks issue isn’t like many others; it’s harder to enforce, since most evidence disappears almost immediately.

Municipalities don’t have the resources to assign someone to every block to ensure that the liberalized fireworks rules are being obeyed.

The sizable number of individuals setting off fireworks on or around July 4 made it impossible for local authorities to significantly monitor compliance.

City officials and some residents believe that alcohol use was a factor in some of the troubling incidents that occurred.

While modernizing the state’s fireworks rules was long overdue, that laudable effort was undermined by the General Assembly’s mistaken belief that the law, as it was approved, was fully workable for all communities.

In reality, it isn’t.


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