House sends bill legalizing fireworks in Iowa to governor

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“4th of July — what do you think about? Fun, freedom and fireworks,” Republican Representative Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley said to open debate Tuesday morning. (link included to read more about the type of fireworks allowed)

The Iowa House has sent the governor a bill that would set up two holiday time periods when retailers could sell bottle rockets and other consumer fireworks in Iowa. In addition, the bill would erase the current prohibition against igniting nearly all fireworks in Iowa without a permit. Fireworks sales and explosions would be limited to the time around the Independence Day holiday and near the turn of the year, to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.

“It would allow Iowans the opportunity to make decisions for themselves whether they want to use fireworks or not,” Windschitl said. “About 40 other states across the state right now allow their citizens the opportunity to make that same decision.”

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown was among the bill’s opponents. “No to the injuries that our children may have,” Smith said, “and no to the restrictions on our freedom to enjoy peace and quiet on major holidays.”

If the bill becomes law, consumer-grade fireworks could be sold and used in Iowa from June 1st and July 8th or at the end of the year from December 10th through January 3rd. The bill gives cities and counties the opportunity to ban people from setting off fireworks, but local governments would not have the ability to ban fireworks sales.

Representative Timothy Kacena, a Democrat from Sioux City who’s a retired firefighter, said there will be more house fires, grass fires and injuries with more fireworks. “Animals are scared to death of ’em. They truly are. They hide,” Kacena says. “If you have a dog right now that runs when it’s thundering, you’d better get him some doggie downers because he’s going to need ’em.”

Representative David Maxwell, a Republican from Gibson who’s a Vietnam veteran, voted “no” because the crack of fireworks can trigger post-traumatic stress in many who’ve served in combat.   “This is the time of year when bad bills just manage to rise Phoenix-like from the mist,” Maxwell said, noting lawmakers are rushing to complete their work and conclude the 2017 legislative session this week.

Republicans rejected a series of proposals from Democrats that would have altered the bill. Representatives Bruce Bearinger, a Democrat from Oelwein, was among those who argued it should be illegal to shoot off fireworks when you’re intoxicated. “I know that there is no cure for stupid, but sometimes our laws need to protect people from themselves,” Bearinger said. “People plus explosives plus beer is rarely a good idea.”

Windschitl replied to that criticism as he delivered his final argument for the bill.  “You’re right…We can’t legislate away stupid people and the actions they’re going to take. We also can’t bubble-wrap Iowans,” Windschitl said. “They’re going to make decisions for themselves, regardless of what the law says on the book. I think we should allow them to make a decision to use legal consumer fireworks instead of putting them in a position where they’re traveling out of state and buying illegal fireworks. Look folks, Iowans are reasonable, responsible people. They can make this decision for themselves.”

And Windschitl closed by reciting the lyrics from the national anthem. “In the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…Let’s expand Iowans’ freedoms today,” Windschitl said.

Wondering what “consumer-grade” fireworks will be legal if the governor approves this bill? Things like Roman candles, “chasers” and smoke balls. Click here to read the extensive list of fireworks that’s in the bill.