The Minnesota House voted Monday to legalize more explosive fireworks and to affirm that fantasy sports are legal in the state, moving to limit government regulation of activities that supporters said are all in good fun.
“Let people have fun,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, arguing in favor of a bill to legalize Minnesota sales of firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles and other so-called “audible and aerial fireworks.”
The Republican-controlled House approved the bill by a vote of 78-56. But don’t get too eager about those July 4th plans: There’s no sign the DFL-led Senate will act on the bill this year, and even if so, Gov. Mark Dayton opposes more permissive state fireworks laws.
“If somebody plays with fireworks and blows off their own arm, blows off a child’s arm that’s standing nearby — I want the state of Minnesota to be able to say, ‘You’re doing that illegally,’” Dayton said last week. He said the state’s political leaders are responsible for “setting standards of public behavior.”
Dayton previously vetoed a bill in 2012 to legalize the same kinds of fireworks, which are available for sale in Wisconsin and the Dakotas. The bill’s chief House sponsor, GOP Rep. Jason Rarick of Pine City, said he retooled the proposal this year in an attempt to address some of the DFL governor’s concerns of four years ago.
Specifically, the legislation would allow the sale of fireworks only from June 1 to July 10 of each year. Only people 18 or older could buy fireworks. Local governments would still be allowed to prohibit fireworks sales in their municipalities, and also could charge an annual license fee to stores seeking to sell fireworks.
Rarick said there shouldn’t be a distinction between fireworks and other potentially harmful devices that are legal.
“Like many devices we use every day, it is up to the user to use it correctly,” Rarick said. “I believe this is the case with fireworks.”
Opponents noted that dozens of organizations representing fire marshals and police officials, doctors and hospitals are on record opposed to looser fireworks laws. Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said more injuries are inevitable if fireworks are more readily available.
“While I’m pro-fun and pro-freedom, I’m also pro-fingers and pro-eyes,” Atkins said.
The fireworks bill passed with mostly Republican votes, and most DFLers against it, but with a handful of party-switchers on both sides. The bill to ratify the legality of fantasy sports passed 100-28, with just a handful of social conservatives and liberal DFLers in opposition.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Tim Sanders, said it would merely codify what is already a legal activity for nearly 1 million Minnesotans who join leagues and use their sports smarts to pick players and then get paid off if the athlete hits home runs or throws touchdown passes.
“This is an important piece of popular culture and community in Minnesota,” said Sanders, R-Blaine. “It’s important we have some certainty in our statutes so Minnesotans who choose to play them know they’re legal and operating safely.”
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is pushing a similar fantasy sports bill in the Senate, upping its odds in the legislative process. Dayton has not yet said publicly whether he’d be inclined to sign the bill. States like New York and Nevada are taking a harder line, with regulators in Nevada declaring it to be a form of gambling and requiring fantasy sports companies to engage in the state’s rigorous licensing process.
The Minnesota Family Council, a socially conservative lobby group, said in a news release that fantasy sports “involves obvious elements of gambling: consideration, chance, and prize. Additionally, it is highly addictive and predatory.”
Sanders’ bill includes a few consumer measures, including a prohibition on kids and fantasy sports companies engaging in play. But he said his intention was to keep government intervention to a bare minimum.