SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says the Legislature needs to act. City councils say the Legislature needs to act. Members of the Legislature say cities can act.
When it comes to banning fireworks, who is right?
The KSL Investigators analyzed current laws to find out.
What the law says
The Utah Legislature last updated the Utah Fireworks Act in 2018, making the following changes:
- Clear dates and times for discharging fireworks.
- Prohibiting the State Forester from limiting or restricting fireworks except in unincorporated areas.
- Allowing local municipalities to restrict fireworks.
But how those local municipalities can restrict fireworks is complicated. They can easily restrict fireworks in areas where wildlands abut homes and urban areas, like restrictions made last week in Eagle Mountain. They can ban fireworks in vegetation areas or within 200 feet of waterways, trails, canyons and similar natural features.
Outside of those places where the wilderness meets the city, it's all about history. The law says that a local legislative body can only restrict fireworks if that area exhibits a history of hazards prior to July 1 in at least two of the last five years.
Even if there is a history of hazardous conditions around that time of year, those local lawmakers must submit a map of the area where they want restrictions prior to May 1 of the year they want those areas closed off.
That means if city councils and other municipal governing bodies did not complete this research and map drawing prior to May 1, there's nothing they can do for the 2021 fireworks season outside of the allowable restrictions.
Ban by executive order?
In March, Cox issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency with Utah's drought conditions. The order was extended for 30 days on May 13, but to be extended further required legislative action. That was done in the 2021 Special Session through HJR 101, which also limited certain emergency powers of the governor.
Last week, the governor told KSL the law does not give him authority to ban fireworks.
His office did a legal analysis to see if the governor could use executive powers to enact a ban under the Emergency Management Act. That analysis determined he did not have the authority.
"Because there is already a statutory framework for the discharge of fireworks, the question is whether the governor has authority under the Emergency Management Act to modify these statutes, which would be required if there was a ban statewide or any change to what is already allowed in statute.
There is a statutory roadblock to altering the firework dates through executive order pursuant to the Emergency Management Act. The act allows the governor to suspend law during a state of emergency pursuant to strict reporting requirements, see Utah Code § 53-2a-209(3) & (4). The act does not, however, allow the governor to modify law during a state of emergency, except in the very narrow circumstances related to providing temporary housing after evacuation."
As far as the 2021 fireworks season goes, many municipalities seeking broader restrictions may be out of luck unless the Utah Legislature convenes to alter the current Utah Fireworks Act and fire code.
For a full list of fireworks restrictions, visit the Utah Fire Marshal's website.