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Lawmakers ready for another fireworks showdown

Posted by: under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators Updated: July 3, 2013 - 5:57 PM

It’s the Fourth of July, which means Minnesotans are definitely not driving across the border to load up on illicit fireworks.

Right?

“Drove over to Wisconsin 2 NOT buy fireworks, NOT bring them back 2 MN, and NOT set them off in Farmington. Because Mark Dayton said so. #Not,” state Rep. Pat Garofalo tweeted last week, still fuming over the governor’s 2012 veto of a bill that would have legalized the sale of commercial fireworks in Minnesota.

“In the south metro of the Twin Cities, fireworks are as illegal as breathing right now,” Garofalo joked. “Local law enforcement doesn’t enforce these laws; people think they’re dumb... The state can say what they think the law is, but in the south metro, the residents put on a better fireworks show than the city-sanctioned show.”

So as some Minnesota residents prepare to fire off contraband to celebrate America’s 237th birthday, some state lawmakers are gearing up to make those displays legal before next year's Fourth.

Just like last year, the bill would face a skeptical governor and resistance from state firefighters, who fear that access to more kinds of fireworks will simply lead to more accidents and injuries.

Fireworks injured 55 people – most of them children and teens – in Minnesota last June and July, the Department of Public Safety reports. Officials fear that those numbers would climb if residents had legal access to flying or exploding fireworks without a permit.

It is "government's foremost responsibility to protect the safety and the well-being of its citizens," Dayton wrote last April as he vetoed the fireworks legalization bill. "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."

But state Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, says he's going to introduce legislation to legalize fireworks when the Legislature returns in 2014

“The Fourth of July is a jubilant time for our country,” Westrom wrote in a column to his constituents last week.  “We noisily honor the wisdom and courage of our founding fathers and commemorate the birthday of our country with marching bands playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ rousing speeches, and fireworks bursting overhead. It’s a joyful time of acknowledging our debt to those early Americans and celebrating our good fortune in being free Americans.”

Westrom has been pushing fireworks-friendly legislation for years, including legislation during the Ventura administration that legalized the sale of what he calls “the baby fireworks” -- sparklers, snakes, and non-aerial, non-explosive devices.

The baby fireworks are fine for some, Westrom said, but plenty of Minnesotans want to celebrate the Fourth with fireworks that shoot into the sky and go boom -- things like firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles, all illegal in Minnesota without a permit.

“Everyone was a criminal, even the four-year-olds,” before that bill passed, Westrom said. “Now it’s at least the teenagers and the adults who are criminals in our state….Every one of us will probably be at a fireworks display or within earshot of a fireworks display. I think it is time for Minnesota to get rid of this archaic law and reap the benefits of the sales tax.”

 

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