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Maine Lawmakers Put Fireworks Bills on Hold
03/19/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine lawmakers have delayed any discussion of new rules to restrict the sale and use of fireworks. Bills tabled by the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would have forbidden their use after 9 p.m., and required Mainers using fireworks to get a local open-burning permit. As of now, the committee is still scheduled to discuss a measure that would repeal the state law legalizing fireworks. Jay Field has more.

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Maine Lawmakers Put Fireworks Bills on Hold
Originally Aired: 3/19/2103 5:30 PM

In 2011, the Legislature, then controlled by Republicans, legalized fireworks for the first time in 62 years. Retail stores sprouted up across the state. According to industry officials, Maine's 17 retail fireworks stores employ as many as 500 people during the summer months.

"Hundreds of jobs, and millions of dollars at stake, literally, for people who are just like me and you, that put their necks out on the line because the Legislature said, 'Go ahead,'" said Rep. Corey Wilson, an Augusta Republican.

Wilson says it would be wrong to place new restrictions on fireworks in Maine, just as the fledgling industry is getting off the ground.
"And to the hundreds of people that are out there working right now, I want them to know, wholeheartedly, that I support them," he said, "and I can't justify telling them to go to the Department of Labor and collect an unemployment check."

Wilson and other members of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee spent Monday afternoon debating a slew of bills to impose new rules on the sale and use of fireworks.

One would have created a fireworks-free zone around farms with livestock. Two others would have would have forbidden their use after 9 p.m. and required Mainers using fireworks to get a local open-burning permit. And a fourth would have combined some of these restrictions and others into a single bill.

All four were tabled by the committee. At the same time, many members of the committee agreed that the current law has problems that need to be fixed.

"One of the issue, concerns, that I had two years ago was the issue of local control - in terms of abutting communities," said Rep. Alan Casavant, a Biddeford Democrat.  Casavant voted against the 2011 law legalizing fireworks, which gave municipalities the right to implement local bans.

"Person lives in Biddeford, right across the street is Arundel, you got two different, opposing view of fireworks. And the neighbor happens to like to use fireworks all summer long," he said. "Every night is the Fourth of July, driving everyone in the neighborhood crazy."

And there are the safety concerns. Rep. Mike Lajoie, a Lewiston Democrat, is the city's former fire chief. "I understand a lot of people have spent money setting up businesses. I understand product is being sold," he said. "However, with that, we also have situations that have not taken place before in such a large number."

A report by the Maine state fire marshal found that in 2012 fireworks caused 20 structure fires, 38 wild fires and 20 injuries. Lajoie is sponsoring a bill that would go further than the four tabled Monday.

"My goal here is to represent both business and our citizens," Lajoie said. "And as much as my bill to ban the use and sale of fireworks would indicate that I'm against the business community, I'm not."

Lajoie's bill may eventually be tabled too. But as of now, it's still scheduled to come up for a work session next week. 



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