From the sound of most Independence Days, it would be hard to conclude fireworks are illegal in Iowa.
Those licensed, legal displays illuminating our river valley are surrounded by unlicensed, illegal displays that draw the same oohs and aahs. Blasts resonate through neighborhoods the entire holiday week and beyond.
From the sound of it, enforcement of Iowa’s 70-year-old ban seems almost nonexistent.
In that context, the bill in the Iowa Senate legalizing fireworks deserves debate.
In every other context, this sneak attack on Iowa law needs much, much more vetting before Iowa’s fireworks ban is wiped off the books.
The bill would end the hypocrisy of forcing Iowans to buy fireworks out of state, then use them freely at home. But our reading suggests this will create much more enforcement for local police. The bill establishes penalties for selling to minors. It allows local fire chiefs to enact bans on particularly hot or dry days – not uncommon in summertime Iowa – then establishes offenses for violators. Enforcement, of course, falls to local police, who certainly need to be consulted before this becomes law.
Doctors, firefighters and moms and dads also may have something to say about this bill that popped out of a Senate committee last week. We’ve been to legislator forums, researched special interest wish lists and published hundreds of letters. We hadn’t heard a peep about legalizing fireworks.
So the bill’s quick approval in Senate committee during the final week of committee work startled us like bottle rocket.
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Upon reflection, we expect legal Iowa fireworks would draw a lucrative business from across the Illinois border. Our safety concerns are tempered by the fact that recreational fireworks already seem eagerly embraced by Iowans.
But this proposal is far too provocative to be rushed into law. Fireworks have been illegal in Iowa since shortly after a dropped sparkler on Independence Day 1936 destroyed 20 businesses and left 100 people homeless in Remsen, Iowa. Five years before that, fireworks were blamed for a blaze that leveled five blocks of downtown Spencer.
Of course, lots has changed in those intervening seven decades. And Prophetstown and Maquoketa residents know that fireworks aren’t needed to ignite blazes that destroy downtowns.
Still Iowa can wait a year to gather more input before rushing through this life and limb-changing proposal.