House votes to give Minnesota more bang in their fireworks

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2012 - 11:56 PM

Amended bill would limit the sale and use of aerial fireworks to five weeks in the summer.

As a supporter urged his colleagues to "Light them up, boys," fireworks frenzy hit the Minnesota House with passage of a bill that permits the sale and use of aerial fireworks and firecrackers during a five-week period in midsummer.

The House voted 77-50 to approve the bill, with Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, an admitted igniter of fireworks purchased in Wisconsin, walking up and down the aisles to whip up support. Garofalo said during the debate that the "namby-pamby nanny-state ... we-have-to-tell-you-what-to-do attitude has got to stop."

The bill was amended by its sponsor, Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, to limit the time period for the more powerful fireworks to June 1-July 7 each year, and to allow local governments some authority to regulate fireworks use. Kriesel said he made the changes in response to criticisms from opponents, including local governments and fire departments.

His bill is not yet finished. It must go back to the Senate, which passed a slightly different version, and then on to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has not yet said whether he will sign it.

Dayton's spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said he spoke with opponents on Monday, including representatives of fire chiefs, fire departments and arson investigators. Hospital emergency room officials and burn centers have also argued against the bill, fearing it will cause more injuries.

But the bill has had a powerful "fun factor" working for it, prompting tales of boyhood explosions and patriotic displays. Those who oppose the bill have been accused of trying to be "fun police."

Minnesota currently prohibits most fireworks; only ground-based products such as sparklers, snakes and fizzy cones are allowed. Until now, it's been up to border-state vendors to supply Minnesotans with the full range of consumer fireworks, including multi-tube skyrockets that produce lengthy aerial displays by lighting a single fuse. Those products would be legalized under the Kriesel bill.

The House floor debate focused on an amendment by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-South St. Paul, that would have made it illegal to use or supervise the use of the fireworks while "under the influence." Opponents questioned how "under the influence" would be defined.

"Representative Atkins, can't you just let Minnesotans have a little bit of fun?" said Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.

Atkins shot back that under the bill as written, "you could be completely schnockered ... completely off your butt drunk, and it would be perfectly legal." Facing opposition from his own party, Atkins withdrew the amendment and the bill passed.

Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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