Thursday, February 20, 2003

House OKs bill
to cut fireworks
permit cost

A Senate panel will discuss
the measure that reduces
the price to $10 from $25

By Pat Omandam

The cost of a state fireworks permit would drop to $10 from $25 under a proposal that has passed the state House and awaits debate in the Senate.

Proponents of the bill said the fee for a fireworks permit is too high and only serves to punish fireworks users.

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Reducing the fee would bring it down to a more reasonable level, said House Judiciary Chairman Eric Hamakawa (D, South Hilo-Kurtistown) in his committee report on House Bill 899.

Opponents, however, fear lowering the fee will increase fireworks usage and hinder the state's efforts to curb fireworks smoke, which is seen as a health and safety hazard.

"When you lower the cost of a permit fee, the obvious result is going to be that more and more people will be shooting off fireworks," said state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe), one of four Republicans who opposed the measure.

"Last New Year's Eve was great, and I think it was a direct result of having a meaningful cost placed on the permit."

Nevertheless, a majority of the 51-member House voted in favor of the bill, which will likely be sent for consideration to the Senate Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee, headed by Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu).

Kawamoto did not hear a Senate companion bill this session that reduces the fireworks permit to $10. A few years ago, he pushed for a total ban on fireworks and stiffer penalties, while the state House wanted the counties to decide whether it should implement its own permit system.

As a result, a compromise bill was reached in 2000 that sets up the current state fireworks permit system. Under the law, an individual can purchase a $25 permit for 5,000 firecrackers. Multiple permits can be purchased.

Hawaii's four counties implement the state law, and the money from the fireworks permit sales goes to each county's general fund.

For New Year's Eve, the City and County of Honolulu issued 6,156 permits but ran into a problem where many fireworks vendors ran out of fireworks, especially the popular 10,000- and 5,000-bundle firecrackers.

While the city did not issue any refunds for those with permits unable to buy fireworks, Hawaii County had a refund offer that was good through Jan. 10.

Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi said yesterday the intent of the $25 fee was to cut down on the use of fireworks. All indications are that the bill was working and had been a deterrent, he said.

For example, Leonardi said, the dollar loss from fireworks-related fires dropped to $200 in 2002 from $569,000 in 2001. The law also has lowered the use of illegal aerial fireworks, he said.

"There's less fireworks on the market. The vendors have brought in way less than in previous years," Leonardi said.

"Now, if you lowered it from $25 to $10, that would increase the sale of fireworks, and of course, I think it would proportionally increase the amount of brush fires and things of that nature," he said.

Leonardi said the city will continue to oppose the bill if it is heard in the Senate.

Fireworks permits, issued through satellite city halls, are not only available for New Year's Eve, but also for Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July. A record 6,427 fireworks permits were issued for Honolulu for the Jan. 1, 2000, millennium celebration.

"I am not in favor of banning fireworks. I think they should be allowed," said House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki), "but I think it's perfectly all right to have a fairly stiff hurdle for getting them."

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