WarrenJune 15, 2012
Warren mulls proposal to restrict fireworks
By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer
WARREN — Changes to Michigan law now make it legal for consumers to light fireworks that fly, whiz and go bang across the state, but an ordinance being considered by Warren officials could throw a wet blanket on the festivities this summer.
The Warren City Council voted 6-1 June 12 to approve an amended ordinance that would include a set of local fireworks safety standards.
Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act permitted the sale and use of Roman candles, bottle rockets, and other products that leave the ground and explode.
But the law does include a list of restrictions: Those under 18 cannot legally purchase consumer fireworks; anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot use them; and they are banned on public, school or private property of another person without express permission.
Warren’s proposed ordinance would go further than that.
The proposed standards restrict the use of consumer fireworks within the city outside of a three-day period before, on and after national holidays. State law permits cities to enact ordinances curtailing the use of fireworks, but exempts those dates specifically.
Warren’s new ordinance would also prohibit fireworks between 10:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. on all days.
Perhaps most notably, the ordinance would make it a violation to ignite fireworks within 200 feet of a residential building, garage, vehicle, tree or bush.
Warren City Council Secretary Scott Stevens cast the lone vote against approving the first reading of the ordinance; he later said he’d continue to push for changes ahead of a second reading on June 26 that could put it on the books.
“What it does, if you put all those together, it means you can’t shoot them off anywhere,” Stevens said. “I have no problem with putting safeguards in. This was written to exclude.”
Council member Keith Sadowski said while he appreciates controlled displays, such as those hosted by the city during the summer, he’s always had concerns about the safety of consumer fireworks.
“I know the same care isn’t being taken,” Sadowski said, adding that fireworks exploding all summer long creates stress for the city’s pets and some residents.
“I think that these rules that we’ll be putting in place will help curb that,” Sadowski said. “It really sets down defined rules and regulations about how these can be used.”
Stevens asked City Attorney James Biernat whether the proposed ordinance could be challenged legally.
“What we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to set the parameters as far out as we can set them and still survive,” Biernat said. “The idea is, we do this because we believe it is in the best interest of the citizens and the children of this community.”
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has openly opposed the state’s new fireworks law, but said the city would strictly enforce its provisions.
He said the three-day period during which cities are excluded from banning fireworks under state law is too long to ensure adequate enforcement without police overtime.
Fouts also chided state officials for enacting a law he said benefits the state through sales taxes and fireworks permit application fees, without providing funding for street-level enforcement in cities and towns.
“The state fireworks law is absolutely an abomination,” Fouts said. “I think it’s extremely important that this city take the initiative that we need to take and own up to some responsibility when it comes to fireworks.
“It’s going to look like Baghdad at the peak of the Iraq war, the way things are going,” Fouts said.
While he said he doesn’t ignite fireworks himself, Stevens said many Warren residents enjoy doing it. He said some have hosted celebrations with fireworks for years that rival the larger, public fireworks displays, and officials have turned a blind eye.
“I believe what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Stevens said. “When I read it (the proposed ordinance), it just became glaringly obvious to me what they were trying to do. What it’s doing in essence is making it illegal to shoot off fireworks in Warren.”
Stevens said the ordinance would need to be tweaked in order to receive his support on June 26.
“I’m not against having safeguards. This is America,” Stevens said. “Every day our freedoms are being taken away from us, one way or another. This is a display of our freedom, when we celebrate the Fourth of July.”
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