DES MOINES — When Rep. Matt Windschitl thinks about the Fourth of July, he thinks about “fun, freedom and fireworks.”
With passage of Senate File 489 by a 56-41 vote, Windschitl and other Iowans will be able to celebrate the midsummer holiday with more than the sparklers, caps and snakes now allowed under Iowa law.
Iowans already are buying fireworks — but elsewhere, Windschitl said.
“They are driving across the border into other states, spending their hard-earned dollars in other states to purchases these products, fill up with gas, buy beer and whatever else, snacks and then come back into Iowa to use them,” he said. “Let’s give them the opportunity to spend their dollars in Iowa.”
Others, however, think about fire, scared pets, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries and death when the subject of fireworks comes up.
“What we legislate against is stupid ideas and stupid people who make bad choices and bad decisions,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.
But it’s not the Legislature’s job to “bubble-wrap Iowans,” Windschitl said.
“We can’t legislate away stupid people and the actions they’re going to take,” he said. “They can make this decision themselves.”
The bill, which was approved by the Senate 34-14 last month, was backed by 50 Republicans and six Democrats, with eight Republicans joining 33 Democrats to vote against it. Three representatives were absent.
It now goes to Gov. Terry Branstad, who has indicated a willingness to sign the bill.
The bill would allow Iowans the freedom to buy and use fireworks similar to residents of 40 other states, Windschitl said, albeit it only during certain times of the year.
SF 489 would allow licensed retailers or community groups to sell consumer-grade fireworks out of permanent structures to adults between June 1 and July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. A similar provision would apply to temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 through July 8 each year. It also would put time restrictions for the display of fireworks.
The measure sets a fee structure for various license levels; allows counties or cities that do not want to legalize fireworks to opt out of the use but not the sale; and bars the sale or purchase involving anyone under 18. A violation is punishable by a fine of $250 to $625.
Democrats, who offered amendments to modify the bill and spoke at length during the two-hour-plus debate, were critical of spending so much time on the bill.
“It’s interesting that today is the last official day of session,” Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said, referring to the fact that lawmakers will no longer collect daily expense money. “We’re spending half the day on a fireworks bill. Is that the most important thing we have to do today?”
Amendments that would have banned the use of fireworks in vehicles and made it a misdemeanor for anyone with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more to use fireworks were rejected. Windschitl said those situations already were covered by the bill.