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Legislature is lighting wrong fuse on fireworks


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POSTED: Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Hawaii Legislature is mishandling fireworks. The latest proposal moving through the Legislature looks at adding a 50 percent tax on all fireworks sold in Hawaii. This approach will not effectively or fairly deal with the challenges that the county governments face when dealing with and responding to fireworks.

Like many Hawaii residents, I enjoyed this past New Year's festivities and the more recent Chinese New Year celebrations. Fireworks, however, have become a dangerous part of our community and time has come for tighter regulation by the counties - not the state - on fireworks.

As any resident of Oahu can tell you, even though the law clearly places strict limits on when fireworks can be used around New Year's and the Fourth of July, far too many people openly ignore the law. All around Honolulu, fireworks were regularly being set off days before New Year's Eve.

Furthermore, in addition to flouting the time limits on fireworks, the use of illegal aerial fireworks has grown significantly. Because of the improvement in technology, fancy explosive aerial fireworks that were once used only by licensed professionals are now finding their way into the hands of the average consumer - typically teenage boys. Improperly handled, these illegal aerial fireworks are a fire hazard to neighboring properties, and the explosive nature of these items is a real danger to any user or bystander.

Adding to these problems, New Year's Eve is always a dangerous situation on our public roads because of the numerous late-night parties. This risky situation on our roadways is made even more hazardous with the explosion of consumer fireworks creating hazy driving conditions mixed with children playing on the streets late at night.

Perhaps all of these problems with fireworks might be ignored if they didn't cost city taxpayers so much money. The city taxpayers bear the cost of law enforcement trying, often unsuccessfully, to enforce the time limit and device restrictions on fireworks. City taxpayers also underwrite the cost of fire and ambulance response for damage caused by fireworks to property and individuals. Finally, the city pays for the cost of cleaning up the streets after fireworks are used. It is simply unfair for the counties to bear the cost of fireworks, but not the authority to regulate fireworks. If the state Legislature wants to continue to regulate and tax fireworks, the state government should also pay for the cost of fireworks.

The time has come for the state government to return the power to regulate fireworks to the counties. I recognize that a more rural county such as the Big Island might not have the same problems with fireworks as the more urbanized Oahu. Further, I want to make it clear that any regulation of fireworks should not ban cultural or religious use of fireworks.

We need to do something about fireworks now. We were lucky that this past New Year's Eve it rained on Oahu right after midnight, mitigating some of the hazards with consumer fireworks. Next time, our community and the taxpayers might not be so lucky. The Legislature needs to recognize that as long as the county government bears the cost of dealing with fireworks-related problems, the counties deserve the right to set regulations on fireworks.

 

Charles K. Djou represents District 4 (Hawaii Kai to Waikiki) on the Honolulu City Council.