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Proposed fireworks ban draws strong opposition

A proposed ban on summer fireworks drew strong opposition at a House committee on Thursday, with many arguing that it would be devastating to nonprofit groups that rely on firework sales for funding.

House Bill 2310 would ban the sale and use of fireworks from June 1 to Sept. 30. Fireworks purchased legally elsewhere could not be discharged in Washington. It would also ban outdoor burning from July 1 to Sept. 30. The bill expires on September 30, 2016.

Democrat Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a firefighter from Sequim, is the primary sponsor of the bill. He said he hopes it will prevent wildfires like those that burned across Eastern Washington last summer, costing the state $250 million and resulting in the deaths of three firefighters.

“I’m personally at a point where we need to do something substantial,” Van De Wege said at the hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. “This is a bill that starts in a way that is the most stringent probably possible.”

He also aims to clarify what he said can be a muddled message about burn bans. He said that people can become confused as burn bans are issued by the Department of Natural Resources and individual counties, which makes enforcement difficult.

“When people are burning in a burn ban, they’re either truly confused or they play stupid and they can get away with it,” he said.

Several people testified against the bill at the hearing, saying that people are already decreasing their use of fireworks during wildfire season voluntarily. Others noted that border states and tribal reservations will still be allowed to sell and discharge fireworks.

Joel Cowart, owner of Pyroland Fireworks in Sumner, said the bill was the state taking a position to “willfully impede” his business.

“This bill right here gives us no legal option to unload the products that we have in our warehouse and is full impedement of my business. I ask that you guys shoot this down at the committee level,” he said.

His concerns were echoed by Katie Westall of Thunder Fireworks, who said that most retailers are buying their products now — far before their selling period in summer. That’s in addition to the cost of licensing fees and land leases.

“If this ban goes into effect, retailers would be out of anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 dollars,” she said. “Wholesalers will be stuck with product that they’re unable to distribute, retailers would be stuck with a product that they’re unable to sell and an entire industry would fall into debt.”

Westall also argued that nonprofit groups that use firework sales as a fundraiser would be impacted. She said many rely on the funds because there’s a short selling period and a high potential for profit.

“Hundreds of nonprofit groups around the state will struggle to pay their bills, buy their uniforms or will cease to exist all together,” she said.

Ed Murphy, president of the Jet Steppers Square Dance Club, said his club relies on revenue from firework sales each summer to pay the cost of the club’s operations each year.

“The social fabric, the environment that we live in, is enriched by what we do,” he said.

Only one person spoke in favor of the bill: Madeline Goodwin, a Master’s of Environmental Studies student at Evergreen State College. She said she had no opinion on the fireworks portion of the bill, but said the burn ban was an important step in preventing wildfires.

“It’s fun to roast marshmallows, but I would rather roast my marshmallows over a camp stove or wait until the rains are here then have fun roasting a marshmallow and then ‘Oops,’ I just lit the forest on fire,” she said. “Accidents happen, it doesn’t matter how good you are at maintaining your fires and keeping them safe. A sudden gust of wind is very unpredictable.”

After the hearing, Van De Wege said it was clear to him that the bill would not  move forward with the fireworks ban in place. He said he filed the bill in its “toughest” form, “totally expecting it wouldn’t be implemented into law.”

Van De Wege told committee members he was open to amending the bill “to make it work for how the committee sees fit.”

 

 

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