Legislator proposes new fireworks law

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah lawmaker wants to legalize "showier" fireworks in a bid to improve the state's statute and create an incentive for residents not to travel to Wyoming to purchase illegal ones.

We don't care about the height; what we care about is do they have a stable trajectory and do they come down hot.

–Rep. Jim Dunnigan

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is proposing to permit "cake" fireworks. While they shoot high, they are on broader bases, their trajectories are more stable, and their remnants return to the ground cold.

"You pretty much know that they're going to go somewhat straight up," Dunnigan told KSL NewsRadio Monday morning. "We don't care about the height; what we care about is do they have a stable trajectory and do they come down hot?"

Remnants of cake fireworks, State Fire Marshall Ron Morris told KSL, are cold cardboard and plastic.

"That's the problem with the bottlerockets, the M-80s, the single-shot mortars," Morris said. "They go up hot, they come down hot - so there's still a real fire danger with those and those are not going to be legal in Rep. Dunnigan's bill."

The measure essentially says if it's not prohibited, then it's allowed. Still prohibited would be cherry bombs and firecrackers, which carry a greater risk of injury. Bottle rockets, skyrockets and single-shot mortars also would be outlawed because of their fire risk.

Dunnigan believes the bill will dissuade Utahns from driving to Wyoming to purchase illegal fireworks and bringing them across state lines.

"We think that fewer people will feel the need to make the trek to Evanston or other places to get fireworks," Dunnigan said. "We think with fewer people doing that, there will be fewer bottle rockets and skyrockets that seem to be the ones that cause damage or start fires."

Dunnigan also contends the law will result in more sales tax revenue in Utah.

"I do think it will be good for Utah," Dunnigan said. "It will allow a fun display; and, frankly, the current law in talking to the fire chiefs and the fire marshals - it's very difficult to enforce."

Morris supports the measure, saying "cake" fireworks are safer, and enforcement of the current statute is not working. People have either had to report their neighbors, or police and firefighters have had to be lucky catching offenders in the act.

Utah Highway Patrol has resorted to undercover stings along the Wyoming border. Police have placed themselves in Evanston in unmarked cars, looking for people leaving firework stores with large purchases. If they head back to Utah, they are stopped on this side of the border.

"It's really disturbing to our merchants for this to happen," Evanston mayor William Davis told KSL in July. "They don't like to think that the cops are spying on them."

It is unclear how this bill will go over in Wyoming. Dunnigan acknowledges it may take from the tax base there.

"It will take some sales away from Evanston and other places, so they may not be too excited about it," Dunnigan said. "On the other hand, maybe they think they'll still get their share and they don't care. I do think it will be good for Utah."

The measure would permit 500 grams of gun powder or less per firework.

"Hopefully with this piece of legislation we can legalize a little bit better firework show for the folks to have here in the state and hopefully keep them here in the state to spend their tax dollars than go out of state," Morris said.

Some local fire agencies, though, sound hesitant to jump on board. Salt Lake Fire Department, for one, has concerns about proximity and wildland spaces bordering the city.

"We're going to have to take a real hard look at what the proposal is," Capt. Michael Harp said. "Our concern is the safety of the public."

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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