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Utah Democrats ask for special session to grant local leaders more control over fireworks

Fireworks fall over the Capitol in celebration of the 125th anniversary of Utah's statehood in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. On Tuesday, Democrats in the Utah House of Representatives called for a special session to grant local leaders more control over fireworks. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — The confusion continued in Utah over who has authority to ban fireworks during the state's worsening drought. On Tuesday, Democrats in the Utah House of Representatives called for a special session to grant local leaders more control over fireworks.

"We have heard from residents and local elected officials in our districts that they need and expect more during this extraordinary situation to help prevent a life-altering disaster in their neighborhoods," House Democrats said in a statement. "Our brave firefighters must be protected from exceeding their capacity to respond in conditions ripe for incendiary calamity."

Republicans said a special session is not necessary and that local governments already have the authority to regulate fireworks.

"Dry conditions have increased the fire danger across many parts of our state and we have taken steps to empower local officials rather than imposing a statewide fireworks ban," said a statement from House Speaker Brad Wilson.

Wilson's statement went on to say that he hopes local leaders will decide what works best for their communities and that residents will act responsibly while celebrating upcoming holidays.

Gov. Spencer Cox has said that the law doesn't give him the authority to issue a statewide ban on fireworks — even under a state of emergency for drought conditions.

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On Tuesday, Salt Lake City issued a citywide ban on common fireworks and novelty fireworks until further notice under the authority of an order from the city's fire marshal.

While Provo's fire marshal said he doesn't have the authority to issue a ban on fireworks, he instead called for personal responsibility and for people to light off fireworks at city parks where they can be monitored by the fire department.

Utah's fireworks law was last updated in 2018 and does allow local cities and towns to restrict fireworks.

Local governments must submit a map showing the restricted areas by May 1 of each year.

"Setting those deadlines is arbitrary and shackles the hands of the people who are responsible for their communities in making those decisions," said Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, in an interview with KSL TV.

Dailey-Provost said there is too much confusion going on over who has authority to regulate fireworks and that the state law needs to be clarified.

"I do believe that at this time it is insincere to just simply say, 'Oh, this is local control,' when the state government has clearly limited the ability for that local control to be meaningful," she said.

While Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, acknowledged that there is a blame game going on surrounding authority over fireworks, he said local governments still have time to act.

"If you want fireworks banned in your neighborhood you should be contacting your mayor and city council members," Weiler said. "And should they have acted before May 1? Yeah, they probably should have. Does that mean they can't do anything today? That's not how I read the law."

While they don't agree about the necessity of a special legislative session, Dailey-Provost and Weiler both said that decisions about fireworks are best made by local leaders.

"Bear Lake is not exactly the same as St. George, and Sanpete County is not exactly the same as Wayne County, and that's why these decisions should be made at the local level," Weiler said.

"Our world is changing. Our climate is changing. Our environment is changing, and I think that the discussion really does need to be less about fireworks and more about what local control really means in the state of Utah," Dailey-Provost said.

Click here to get information about banned fireworks in your area.

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Ladd Egan

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