city fireworks

In this file photo from June 2020, fireworks for Celebrate Lancaster were launched from behind Washington Elementary School on South Ann Street.

Pennsylvania’s expanded fireworks law is being called into question by a Lancaster County state senator who says his constituents are “rightfully frustrated” by the disruptive explosives.

While not calling directly for repealing the law, State Senator Ryan Aument (R-36) said Wednesday that he had sent a letter to Sen. Elder Vogel (R-47), who chairs the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, requesting a hearing to review the 2017 expansion of the sale of fireworks and “potential ways to address the issues created by it.”

“My constituents are rightfully frustrated that their local police departments do not have the manpower, resources, or statutory flexibility to investigate their complaints or prevent the misuse of these fireworks in the first place,” Aument said in a press release. “And I agree with them – we should not continue to expect our law enforcement and firefighters to fix and clean up the issues created through this law while simultaneously providing them no support to protect their communities. A legislative change is necessary.”

How the law changed

The 2017 fireworks expansion enabled Pennsylvania residents to buy a new class of fireworks they previously did not have access to, including “mortars,” which are launched into the air to explode.

In calling for new changes to the law, Aument cited recent incidents in Wilkes-Barre, where a family of eight was left homeless after a firework landed on their porch, and in York, where an 8-year-old boy was killed and his family injured in a fireworks-related house fire.

“These most recent examples of the loss of life and property were absolutely avoidable,” Aument said in the press release. “Enough time has passed to allow for any initial issues stemming from the new law to work themselves out – unfortunately, we have only seen things get worse, not better. That is why I am respectfully requesting that the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee hold a hearing on how we can improve this law and prevent any further tragedies.”

Growing complaints, injuries

As previously reported by LNP, fireworks-related complaints have been on the rise in recent years since the amendment. So have fireworks-related injuries, according to the Allentown-based Burn Prevention Network.

And law enforcement has noted that enforcement of the rules, which bans setting off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure, is difficult because it requires catching the person who set it off to issue them a citation.

Aument pointed to a 2018 state Senate report on recommendations to revamp Pennsylvania’s Fire & EMS systems. The report recommended completely repealing the fireworks law expansion or implementing tougher penalties for violations and allowing municipalities greater flexibility in adopting their own fireworks ordinances.

Other state legislators have started to come around to the idea that the law needs to be changed. State Sen. Gene Yaw, who authored the 2017 expansion, is circulating a co-sponsorship memo looking for support to amend the act.

After initially resisting change to the legislation, he wrote in the memo that complaints could be addressed by amending the law to offer guidance to local governments on controls for the use of fireworks, implementing limits on when fireworks can be set off, and increasing criminal penalties for violating the act.

Matt Osenbach, legislative director for Yaw, said the senator is still meeting with stakeholders, including law enforcement groups, to draft the legislation but there is currently no timetable for its introduction.

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