Fireworks (The Literal Kind)

The Georgia Legislature reconvenes this morning to hurtle down the highway to Sine Die, and when they do, HB 727 will likely be back on the House floor. It’s the latest fireworks bill, and it promises to return some control and authority on fireworks to county and municipal governments – and frankly, it’s about time, since while I am not certain whether any of the sponsors of the original legislation received many midnight phone calls from angry constituents whose neighbors lit up the night like the 4th of July just about any time they pleased, I know that I did, and my constituents were not amused when I told them that there wasn’t a blessed thing the city could do to encourage their neighbors to keep their blazing, booming liberty to themselves.*

Under the current legislation, the only place you can’t detonate fireworks is within 100 yards of a nuclear power plant or a gas station. HB 727 adds restrictions to locations including parks, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, and electrical power plants – but interestingly, detonating them around a school would remain perfectly legal (so take note, GeorgiaPol readers who also happen to be juvenile delinquents; the intersection of those populations is surely a very special Venn diagram).

I wrote about the current law’s drawbacks last summer, and I’m pleased that the new legislation recognizes that while law-abiding businesses should have every right to operate in Georgia, county and municipal governments should have the ability to reasonably regulate businesses that operate within their jurisdictions through ordinances and, yes, through restricted uses within zoning districts. Furthermore, if a community overwhelmingly wants to limit the dates and hours that their residents can blow stuff up, the state should not prohibit any local authority from setting and enforcing these limits.

My favorite part of HB 727 is that it includes provisions for “temporary consumer sales facilities” – they’re what are generally referred to as “tents.” My community has two permanent fireworks stores, and I’d prefer a dozen temporary tents – tents that my city can regulate through local ordinances – in their place any day of the week. Here’s why: tents are ephemeral. They come, they go, fireworks go boom, life rolls on. Permanent stores are precisely that – one in my community has a multi-decade lease – and I believe (read: this is my opinion) that the economic revitalization that is happening along that particular corridor will be hindered by the presence of that store. I do not think that a seasonal, temporary retailer would have that same negative effect.

Unfortunately, the version of the bill that cleared the Senate and is set to return to the House is stripped of the provisions that allow tents. I hope the House sees fit to restore those provisions, along with ensuring that communities, and not the General Assembly, can work with their residents to determine how – or whether – they want to place some boundaries on how and when things can go boom in their neighborhoods.

Since the beginning of the fireworks conversation in Georgia, both with members of the General Assembly and through internet comment threads, there seems to be this implicit assertion that if I am the kind of person who deigns to live in a community where my home is within egg-borrowing distance from a neighbor, I somehow forfeit any expectation that my neighbor should hold back on the Black Cats and M-1000s whenever he feels like a pyrotechnic celebration. It’s not always overt, but I think there’s definitely a streak of rural Georgia versus urban/suburban Georgia near the core of this debate.

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