COLUMBUS — Shooting off fireworks in Ohio, a time-honored tradition of lawbreaking across the state, would become fully legal just in time for July 4, 2020, under a bill that passed the House on Wednesday.
For decades, Ohioans have been allowed to purchase fireworks but not legally set them off inside the state. Up until 2015, customers were required to sign a form promising to transport the fireworks out of state within 48 hours. The 48-hour requirement remained, but lawmakers did away with the form, recognizing people regularly lied on it.
House Bill 226, which passed with a bipartisan 83-14 vote, allows Ohioans to discharge consumer-grade fireworks, so long as they have the property owner’s permission and are not intoxicated. It also permits local governments to restrict when fireworks can be set off.
Local officials can ban fireworks altogether "if they want to be un-American about it," said Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, a prime sponsor of the bill.
Already, 44 states allow fireworks to be discharged, and "the world has not ended," he said. That includes West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan.
"Let us have illuminations of one end of the continent to the other to celebrate our freedoms," Seitz said, quoting one of the nation’s founding fathers, John Adams.
The bill would eventually make those fireworks more expensive.
Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the bill would impose a new 4 percent fee on the price of fireworks. Most of the estimated $1.5 million in annual revenue would be earmarked for firefighter training programs, while a small amount would go to the state fire marshal’s office for fireworks industry enforcement and regulation.
Opponents to the bill include Prevent Blindness Ohio, the Children’s Hospital Association and the Ohio State Medical Association.
"Throughout my career I have cared for children who have been injured by fireworks in Ohio," said Dr. Sarah Denny, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital who testified against the bill on behalf of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
She highlighted data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that said fireworks were responsible for about 11,900 emergency room visits in 2015. Of those, 26 percent were to children younger than 15, and nearly half of the total were to individuals not directly involved in shooting off the fireworks.
Denny said fireworks injuries increased 38 percent between 2010 and 2015.
"Fireworks are inherently dangerous and we should consider what kind of statement we will make as a state by repealing the consumer fireworks ban," she said.
Rep. Adam Miller, D-Columbus, was the only Franklin County member to vote against the bill.
The bill, which now heads to the Senate, also would create a study group to recommend changes by July 2019 to state fireworks law.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said he voted in favor of a fireworks legalization bill that passed the Senate in 2014. But he added that the GOP caucus still needs to examine the specifics of the House-passed bill.
Over the years, Ohio lawmakers have repeatedly extended the moratorium on new fireworks manufacturer and wholesale licenses in the state, meaning no additional competition has been permitted. The bill would extend that to July 2020, and the study group would recommend what happens beyond that date.
Seitz said he wasn't happy about extending the moratorium again, arguing it "insulates a few sellers against competition." But, he said, ending it overnight would create chaos while the market transitioned.
In other business, the House also voted 87-6 for House Bill 79, which allows tactical medical professionals who have completed a training course to carry a gun while on duty.
Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, said the bill is for local EMTs and paramedics who also assist SWAT units.