Majority of Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee Support Bill Banning Fireworks in Maine

The Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety voted to move forward with LD 1307, which, as its currently written, would effectively be a full repeal of the 2011-2012 act making consumer fireworks legal in Maine.

About 20 testimonials have been submitted to the Committee so far and the majority of them have written in support of the bill’s passage.

A good number of those came from rural residents that were upset with the noise. Testimonials included multiple complaints from farmer’s dealing with spooked horses injuring themselves and causing property damage doing it.

Others with rural lake front properties argued that the law permitting fireworks has caused them harm, not just from being suddenly awoken up on an almost nightly basis through the summer months, but of also having to clean up empty mortar shells and other firework debris that lands on their property.

The testimony from Mr. and Mrs. Irving of Northfield raised a number of good points, one being that, even if Northfield moved to ban fireworks in their community, they would lack the resources to actually enforce such a ban. In fact, according to their testimony, their community lacks the resources to even enforce the state’s fireworks rules as they are now.

They also discussed the potential for forest fires and cited that, in 2020, the Maine Forest Service responded to 20 forest fires started by fireworks and another 6 fires caused by fireworks reported by Maine Fire departments. That’s 26 fires started because of fireworks in 2020 alone, assuming there is no overlap. But even if there is overlap then it could still represent total resources used per fire.

Related to what these rural residents are arguing, a couple of Lewiston residents, including state house representative Kristen Cloutier, testified to a similar issue in Lewiston. Specifically, of people shooting off fireworks well within city limits, despite Lewiston having long banned their use.

Cloutier, who also sponsored the bill, testified that during the summer the sounds of fireworks can sometimes be heard well past midnight and has caused problems for pets and exasperated mental health conditions for some residents, including PTSD symptoms. Cloutier also stated that one of the biggest complaints from her constituents are fireworks.

Similar to the problem facing small communities like Northfield, Cloutier argued Lewiston Police lack the ability to actually enforce the city’s mandate and the patchwork of rules and regulations adopted by other communities exacerbates the problem for Lewiston.

Wiscassett residents, Tom and Katy Bryant, provided both written and spoken testimony in favor of the ban but their reason for wanting to repeal is actually a bit more technical than simply taking issue with the noise.

About 10 years ago, when fireworks were first made legal in Maine, the Big Al store along Route one in Wiscassett opened Big Al’s Fireworks Outlet and then separate from the retail location, they also built a firework’s warehouse to store whatever wasn’t at the retail location. The warehouse is also in Wiscassett but at a different property, along a residential dead-end road, approximately 15 feet from the Bryant’s driveway.

The presence of their new neighbor have lead to a series of problems for the Bryants They testified to their inability to refinance their home because no bank is willing to lend on a property located so close to a fireworks warehouse. This also means that any attempt to eventually sell the home will need to be a cash transaction.

The Bryants also explained that, because of the way the law was written, the fireworks warehouse located next to their home did not require a state license or even any sort of state inspection or oversight to exist.

In an effort to get some sort of recourse, the Bryant’s had actually taken their case all the way to Maine’s supreme court. In 2020, the court found this loop hole so outrageous that they decided to close it themselves. The court’s decision stated that these firework warehouses, because they are holding fireworks intended to be sold as consumer fireworks, are subject to the same licensing and inspections any retail location would be obligated to follow.

This court case has effectively now forced the legislature to deal with officially closing this loophole. LD 180, which was introduced in the last legislative session was an attempt at coming up with specific regulations around firework warehouses in Maine.

But after the public hearing and work session, a majority of the committee members concluded that LD 180 as it was currently written would likely be inadequate in meeting the specific problems laid out by the Bryant’s and the decision by the court.

One of those problems has to do with set backs. Current state law would have a fireworks retail location set at least 60′ feet from any other building.

According Cecilo & Christopher Juntara from Wiscassett’s Taste of Orient and Scooner Inn, Big Al built his warehouse 100 feet from their restaurant and less than 60 feet from the property line. The presence of the fireworks warehouse has now made a portion of their property useless for expansion because doing so would violate the 60 foot requirement. In addition to Big Al causing a portion of their property useless for development, the Juntara’s stated their business insurance also increased because of the warehouse being built so close to the restaurant’s propane tanks.

And so even though that bill, LD 180 ended up passing without a governor’s signature, what passed was a completely different bill than what had been proposed. What had been proposed were some actual rules and regulations designed to regulate fireworks warehouses. But the majority opinion of the committee was to abandoned making any actual regulations at that time and ammended the bill to have the State Fire Marshal convene a “stakeholder group that would review federal and state requirements for the storage of consumer fireworks by businesses that sell consumer fireworks.”

The bill required that the stakeholder group present their findings and legislative recommendations to the committee by last November…November 1st 2021 to be exact. This is not a report I’ve read but it doesn’t appear that any policy recommendations presented in that report have made it into any proposed legislation yet.

Returning to LD 1307,, the bill to ban fireworks statewide, most of the testimonies opposing the ban were short. Usually at least a couple of sentences but no more than a paragraph. The two exceptions were from Steven Marson of Pyro City Maine and Curtis Picard representing the Retail Association of Maine.

Marson’s testimony included comments on LD 1307, as well as LD 1348, which is another fireworks bill the committee is considering that would require fireworks used next to farms be no louder than 75 decibels. Marson spoke against both bills .  According to Marson, implementing the types of decibel regulations outlined in LD 1348 would be impossible to implement in the private sector or enforce in the public sector. Marson provided some insight into the private sector challenges and provided a citation for a European report supporting his position.

Marson’s opposition to LD 1307, covered a few different bases. In response to the comments made by Lewiston House Rep Cloutier, Marson argued that the “patchwork” of different rules for different municipalities, was by legislative design in the original 2011 bill legalizing them, with the idea being that Communities should choose for themselves.

Marson also argued that people were being disturbed by fireworks long before they were legally allowed because tourists & vacationers were bringing them up from New Hampshire. A practice, according to Marson, would be happening again if the decade old bill were repealed.

In response to concerns from farms and horse owners, Marson did concede that more can be done to encourage better etiquette…

“Consumer fireworks users need to be good neighbors and my employees do their part in trying to ensure the customers are doing just that. We can and will provide information in our stores to advocate to be a good neighbor, specifically relating to use around farms.”

Picard from the Retail Association of Maine spoke against both LD 1307, and LD 1348 as well. Picard reiterated Marson’s position with regards to trying to regulate firework decibels and argued that the current law was arrived at from a large pool of stakeholders, including retail businesses that are now operational with employees. Picard also argued that given what covid restrictions had done to Maine’s economy, deliberately closing down these small businesses would only cause more harm. Similar to some of Marson’s remarks, Picard conceded that spending more attention on educating the public on proper firework etiquette would be helpful.

During the January 14th work session, the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public safety voted unanimously to recommend to the legislature that they pass an amended version of LD 1307. At this time, its unclear what those amendments might be or if the bill would still be considered a state-wide ban as the original bill intended.

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