Legislation is slowly making its way through Harrisburg that would give Pennsylvania residents more options when they buy fireworks.
Right now, residents can legally purchase only a small, ground-bound selection of fireworks, including sparklers, smoke balls and snappers — those pea-sized paper sacks that pop when they hit the ground.
Bottle rockets or anything that makes a boom or becomes airborne is off limits.
State Sen. Eugene Yaw, R-Lycoming, wants to change that by making all “consumer fireworks” available to all purchasers. To him, the current law just doesn’t make sense.
“Out-of-state people, nonresidents, can come to Pennsylvania and buy consumer fireworks. Pennsylvanians can go to other states and buy consumer fireworks. What’s the logic behind that?” said Yaw.
As it stands, the measure calls for a 10 percent excise tax in addition to the sales tax.
In Philadelphia, that means consumers would have to pay a 17 percent tax on fireworks.
The idea is to put some of that money toward supporting emergency services and fire departments around the state. The rest may go to the state’s general fund.
Robert Stewart, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pyrotechnics Association, has no problem with any of that, but he is concerned the measure could hurt business and spark frustration among owners.
“People will react to that,” said Stewart. “If I went into a store and bought something, I expect to pay the sales tax. I wouldn’t expect to pay 10 percent tax.”
Safety experts oppose the idea of potentially putting more people in harm’s way, especially on the Fourth of July, where fireworks as much on the menu as hot dogs and hamburgers.
In a typical year, fireworks account for two out of five U.S. fires on Independence Day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“When you light one and it doesn’t go off, somebody gets impatient waiting for it. They walk up and try to jiggle it or relight it, and it goes off in their face or somewhere else. We would encourage people to go to your municipal fireworks and enjoy those,” said Don Konkle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Service Institute.
Yaw said the excise tax won’t cut into sales and that the safety risks are minimal.
“We cannot legislate against stupidity. If somebody has made up their mind that they’re going to hold up fireworks in their hand and light it and continue to hold it, I don’t know how you stop that,” he said.
The bill is in the hands of the Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee. Yaw said he doesn’t expect a vote until the fall at the earliest.