The pyrotechnics in the sky July 4th are nothing compared with the fireworks at the Legislature every time the issue of legalization comes up for debate.
In Minnesota, you can legally buy sparklers, or charcoal snakes, or cones. Anything else — from firecrackers to aerial rockets — is illegal until you cross the Wisconsin border.
“I live in the south metro about 25 minutes from the Wisconsin border. Wisconsin-style fireworks are already unofficially legal in the south metro,” said state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who pushed legislation this year to legalize the sale of aerial fireworks. “If people want to buy fireworks, they go across the border and buy them. They see no harm in breaking that law.”
His bill went nowhere, just like many fireworks bills before it. In 2012, a fireworks legalization bill passed the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, at the urging of firefighters and emergency workers who feared that more fireworks would mean more injuries.
In his veto letter, Dayton said, “government has the responsibility to do its utmost to protect vulnerable young Minnesotans, courageous firefighters and police officers, and innocent bystanders of all ages, who could become victims of someone else’s carelessness.”
The legislative session is over, but fireworks season is just beginning. Constituents are starting to ask lawmakers why most of the fireworks in Minnesota are in the hands of paid professionals — or scofflaws.
“As with many issues, the opposition to legalized fireworks is based primarily on emotions instead of facts,” Garofalo, who is out of the country this week, said in an e-mail.
“If you think about it, a Minnesotan can legally drive a 5,000-pound vehicle or own a shotgun, but our government says these same people can’t be trusted to responsibly light off a bottle rocket. It really makes no sense.”
But for now, the aerial rockets are a job for professionals. As the community of St. Cloud can tell you, putting on a good show for July 4th is neither cheap nor easy.
Many cities dip into their budgets or, like Duluth, enjoy festivals put on by the local convention and visitor’s bureau.
St. Cloud’s annual fireworks show has been a community volunteer effort for the past 67 years. The fireworks alone cost more than $30,000, and the entire event costs twice that. And that’s after donations of everything from the police presence to goods for the raffle that will fund next year’s show.
“We think it’s important to celebrate America’s birthday,” said Tom Richardson, president of the St. Cloud Fireworks Committee, who’s been helping out with the fireworks since he was a little boy selling refreshments. “It’s a simple tradition, but it’s an important tradition.”
How much does St. Cloud love this tradition? This year, the show will start with a press of a button by Beulah Rose Hutchens, the city’s 88-year-old honorary fireworks commissioner.
“This is so exciting and probably the biggest honor of my life,” she said in a statement. Her family has lived in St. Cloud for 60 years and has attended almost every fireworks show. “We think St. Cloud has the best fireworks around.”