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June 26, 2013

Revamped state fireworks law sparks differing reactions

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Fire officials say professional fireworks shows are the safest way to celebrate. While there are many professional shows, such as this one in Madison Heights last year, many people enjoy purchasing their own fireworks.

The state Legislature recently passed some updates to the Fireworks Safety Act, which governs the use and sale of consumer-grade fireworks in the state, in response to some of the negative feedback that has arisen since the act was signed into law last year.

“When we passed the bill for the first time last year, there was a commitment made by myself that, if there was issues, we’d go back and fix it,” said state Rep. Harold Haugh, who sponsored House Bill 4743, which aims to give local municipalities more control in governing the use of consumer-grade fireworks. “This bill does that.”

Under the law as passed last year, local governments could not put any restrictions on the discharge, initiation or use of consumer-grade fireworks on the day of, the day before and the day after national holidays.

The new provision gives certain municipalities the ability to restrict the hours of use for consumer-grade fireworks.

“The positive is, this time, local municipalities can outlaw fireworks on 330 days a year, and they can limit the times of use in densely populated areas from 8 p.m. to midnight,” Haugh said.

In the bill, densely populated areas are defined as cities with populations of more than 50,000 or local units of government in a county with a population of 750,000 or more.

The population-based specification is designed to address the problem without forcing restrictions on areas where it has not been a problem.

“It was happening all over the state, but as you travel north, it wasn’t as much of an issue,” Haugh said. “It was a bigger problem in south Macomb County and the southeastern part of the state than it was elsewhere.

“When it passed the House, the only dissenting vote was from a representative from the (Upper Peninsula) who voted against it because he didn’t want the law changed at all. The 11 communities he represents wanted it to stay the way it was.”

House Bill 4743 passed the House with a 107-1 vote May 28, with state Rep. Scott Dianda casting the single dissenting vote. The bill passed the Senate with a 37-0 vote June 12. The bill was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley June 19.

Despite its success in the Legislature, local leaders have mixed feelings about it.

In Sterling Heights, Lt. Luke Riley said residents will not see any changes in the governance of the use of fireworks in the city.

“We already have ordinances in place that prohibit the use of fireworks from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. — it is our noise ordinance, and it covers anything that is disruptive and loud.

“The state law gives them to midnight, but in Sterling Heights, they have to knock it off at 11 p.m.,” Riley said.

Overall, Riley said, the discharge of fireworks in off-times hasn’t been a huge issue in the city.

“Last year, around the Fourth, we wrote about 10 violations, and that was in a 10-day period,” he said. “We did get 120 complaints between 12:18 a.m. July 3 and 11 p.m. July 4, but it hasn’t been too bad. Most people understand if we go out and talk to them once.”

Sterling Heights wasn’t the only city to cover the use of fireworks in their noise ordinance. In nearby Roseville, the use of consumer-grade fireworks has been regulated by the local noise ordinance since the Fireworks Safety Act passed last year.

“Residents won’t see much of a difference here in Roseville,” City Manager Scott Adkins said. “We were already enforcing the noise ordinance and limiting the days of use, but doing so could have left us open to legal action, and under the new provision, we are protected.”

Other communities have had similar reactions. In Farmington Hills, elected officials eagerly await the new provision being signed into law.

“We are in support of that language and we have an ordinance that is in process right now that, should the legislation be signed, this ordinance would essentially enact those rules that are in there,” said Assistant City Manager Nate Geinzer. “We are hoping to have that ordinance passed by this July 4.”

Not every community is in support of the new provision, and some even say it further limits their control over the issue.

“Last year, we relied on our noise ordinance, which starts at 11 p.m., but what this legislation does is it says we cannot enforce it until midnight, except on New Year’s Eve, and then we can’t enforce it until 1 a.m.,” said Eastpointe Councilwoman Wendy Richardson. “Last year, it was silent. This year, it is restricting.”

For Haugh, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“Those people that are upset, I understand completely, but this law has brought a lot of positives to the state,” Haugh said. “We have earmarked the first $1 million of fireworks safety fees to go to fireworks safety training for local fire departments.”

Under the law, all fireworks retailers are required to pay a fireworks safety fee and undergo a $1,000 specialized building inspection. Currently, state fire marshals are conducting those inspections, but that will transition to local municipalities once enough money is raised to provide training to local departments.

“That’s $1,000 local municipalities can take in each time they do a fireworks safety building inspection,” Haugh said. “And under the new provision, municipalities can enforce a $500 fine, which they get to keep, for violations to the law.”

Haugh went on to mention the tax dollars that the new law has brought to the state.

“Some 90 vacant buildings have converted to tax-revenue-producing buildings under the law, and 400-500 jobs have been created because of it in this past year,” Haugh said.

James Stajos owns 10 of those buildings. Stajos grew up in Lansing, and as a fireworks distributor based there, helped draft the initial bill to legalize them in the state.

He recognized long ago that much of the money in fireworks was in retail sales, and he ended up opening stores in Indiana and Pennsylvania, while continuing to manufacture fireworks in Michigan.

“I was manufacturing them here and shipping them out of state,” Stajos said.

But when the law changed, so did his business plan. Stajos closed his out-of-state stores and opened stores in Roseville, Sterling Heights, Grand Rapids and seven other locations around the state.

“I give (Haugh) all the credit, but a lot of people give him the blame,” Stajos said. “It’s about common sense. I myself would not shoot them off on a Tuesday night, but I would on a Friday or Saturday.”

There is one thing Stajos said he would change though — the misconceptions.

“The big misconception that is out there is that they are illegal every other day than the 30 days mentioned everywhere,” Stajos said. “In many communities, they are legal 365 days a year. It varies by community — in downtown Dewitt, they are limited to the 30 days, but in Dewitt Township, they are legal 365 days a year — and people need to know what is legal in their community.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.