By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Since 1938, Iowans have not been allowed to buy or sell consumer fireworks in the Hawkeye State, but state Sen. Mark Chelgren, of Ottumwa, is hoping to change that.
Chelgren, who is the representative for Iowa Senate District 41 that encompasses Wapello, Jefferson, Davis and Van Buren counties, introduced Senate File 2064 on Jan. 28, which is a bill that would allow the sale and purchasing of consumer fireworks in the state of Iowa.
Consumer fireworks are those that pack a bigger punch than novelty fireworks (sparklers, snakes and caps) but aren’t as dramatic and explosive as display fireworks that can only be handled by professionals and viewed at a distance.
The proposed bill states that the minimum age to sell and purchase consumer fireworks would be set at 18, and respective city councils and boards of supervisors could suspend their use should they feel a threat to public safety could be compromised by setting off fireworks.
“The bill allows control,” Chelgren said. “I trust the local decision makers.”
There are also outlined consequences presented in the bill for violators of the proposed laws. Should someone under the age of 18 buy or sell fireworks, or if someone sets off fireworks while the city council, board of supervisors or governor prohibits their use due to safety concerns, the person will be charged with a simple misdemeanor and pay a fine of at least $250.
Not only would the proposed bill allow the sale of consumer fireworks, but it would also create a local fire department equipment fund, which would put all of the money from the sales tax of fireworks sold in Iowa into a fund to provide grants to local fire departments in the state for equipment purchase or maintenance. The fund will be created in the state treasury and be under the control of the state fire marshal.
Providing funds to help fire departments was the reason Chelgren decided to introduce the bill even though he did not have a co-signer, which is the norm for these kinds of bills, he said.
Chelgren said he had several conversations with a fire chief from Davis County, and the main thing that the chief asked was if there was a way to get more revenue for equipment. After doing research and working with different groups about the issue, Chelgren found a problem but also a possible solution.
“They said there is a huge demand [of revenue for equipment] with little resources,” he said. “I had an interest a few years ago with getting fireworks legalized. My thought was if we could legalize fireworks in Iowa … then we could use the tax money.”
Although Chelgren has introduced the bill, there is a long process that includes committees and subcommittees that the bill has to go through in order to go to the Senate and House of Representatives floor to be adopted. Even if it doesn’t get adopted soon, though, Chelgren sees the introduction as a move in the right direction.
“I explained to some of my colleagues that this is a starting point,” he said. “I would be happy to take the bill through, but I know in a year where politics is so important … my feeling is that is not what the goal of the bill is.”
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