Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 28, 2013

Senator reignites push to legalize more powerful fireworks in West Virginia

MANNIX PORTERFIELD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — Once again, the fuse has been lit on legalizing the more robust fireworks in West Virginia.

Freshman Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, offered his bill Wednesday, one in a series of efforts in past sessions to let West Virginians buy and set off rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers, cakes and shells.

In preparing his bill, Hall worked with retired chemical engineer Clifford Rotz, a leading advocate for legalization in recent years.

Rotz appeared at an interims committee meeting last year, making an appeal to authorize fireworks that West Virginians now routinely buy in other states and discharge back home, albeit illegally, during the revelry that accompanies such holidays as New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

“These are the big bangers, the stuff that everybody goes to Tennessee, Virginia and Ohio to buy and bring back to West Virginia,” Hall said Wednesday.

Some years ago, the Legislature allowed the less demonstrative fireworks, such as sparklers, fountains, spinners and the like.

In defense of the more potent ones, Rotz often has pointed out the 50 milligrams allowed in a firecracker is about one-sixth of the amount of powder found in an ordinary aspirin tablet.

Consistently, the state fire marshal’s office has rigorously opposed the legislation on grounds of safety, and Hall said he understands this.

“It should be opposed to anything that is hazardous,” he said.

“That would be a good policy for their office. They should have a stance all the time that they oppose anything that’s potentially dangerous due to fire. They’re just looking out for the public.”

Rotz has maintained steadfastly that the use of fireworks by individuals has become increasingly safer over the years and that national statistics bear this out.

“People are already using fireworks here,” Hall said.

“That’s not the issue. It’s not like they’re not already here. I’ve got neighbors that put them off. Everybody does. They’ve been doing it for years. This would bring West Virginia up to our competitive states. It’s another thing we’ve been stubborn and hard-headed about. This is another way for our businesses to capitalize on another market.”

Besides the routine 6 percent sales tax, the legislation would impose a like rate for a “fireworks safety fee.”

Unlike some bills in past years, Hall said his won’t dedicate any money to volunteer fire units, since the money generated wouldn’t be great enough to justify divvying it up among the 400-plus departments.

Hall said he expects some variation of his measure to be presented in the House of Delegates.

“And there’s going to be bi-partisan support here in the Senate,” he said.