propose total ban
Exceptions would be
made for cultural or
By Mary Adamski
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and Mike Yuen
Two Senate panels today proposed that there be a total ban of fireworks, except when used for religious or cultural activities.
The counties will be able to exempt themselves from the prohibition if they pass an ordinance permitting fireworks, said Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), chairman of the Senate Transportation and Intergovernmental Affairs panel. But if the counties chose this option, they would have to be responsible for fireworks permitting and enforcement, Kawamoto said.
Kawamoto's panel and the Judiciary Committee did not work on the proposal -- they simply discussed it this morning -- because Republican senators wanted to see the printed copy of the draft bill before they voted on it.
The proposal calls for implementing the ban on Jan. 2, 2002. That means millennium celebrations with fireworks would not be curbed, Kawamoto said.
Under the measure, the selling and use of firecrackers would be a felony offense, punishable with a maximum $10,000 fine and five years in jail.
Last night, people who are sickened by the smoke and the noise outnumbered people who celebrate their religion and ancestry with firecrackers in testimony on 12 bills calling for tighter restrictions on fireworks use.
Even people who profit from fireworks sales said they support tighter controls after the explosive New Year observance, which saw widespread use of illegal aerial fireworks.
"We admit it got out of hand, way out of hand," Richard Botti, representing 250 retailers and five wholesalers, told state senators last night. He was one of more than 30 people to testify at a joint hearing of the Judiciary, and Transportation and Intergovernmental Affairs committees.
"The last New Year was just a warm-up for the millennium," Deputy Honolulu Fire Chief John Clark said. He said law enforcement agencies "haven't got a handle" on the influx of fireworks into Hawaii.
David Rodrigues, representing Gov. Ben Cayetano, was one of several speakers to advocate a ban on fireworks.
Botti said sellers represented by his Legislative Information Services of Hawaii do see the need to tighten the state law, which already prohibits use of aerial fireworks, limits firecracker use to a few hours at New Year's Eve and Day, and requires sellers to be licensed -- provisions that were violated. He proposed:
Make it a misdemeanor for anyone without a license to possess more than 50 pounds of aerial fireworks.
Establish a civil citation with an automatic $100 penalty for possession or use of any aerial fireworks without a license.
Increase the current $110 license fee to $1,000 for importers and wholesalers, $250 for storage and $150 for retailers.
Limit the size of a firecracker string that can be sold by retailers to the "10,000 tau" size, which contains 2,600 firecrackers.
"We want this banned," Botti told the committee, displaying a "100,000 tau" string, which contains 16,294 firecrackers.
Fireworks consultant Gerald Farley admitted: "There was a considerable price war. That's why there was so much."
Louis Vierra, principal of Campbell High School, where students and teachers were hurt by bombs made from sparkler chemicals, said "the extreme availability of fireworks for a very low cost" led to this being the first year injuries occurred.
There has been an 18.7 percent escalation of fireworks-related reports in the last two years, said Capt. Darryl Perry, who said the Honolulu Police Department backs a ban on individual use of fireworks.
William Lum of the Lum Sai Ho Tong said traditional Chinese worship involves "burning of a modest amount of firecrackers," and the usage is continuing as new Chinese immigrants arrive. "A total ban would be an infringement of cultural and religious practices."