Lawmakers fire up sparkler debate again - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Lawmakers fire up sparkler debate again

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Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 12:41 pm | Updated: 3:36 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State lawmakers are going to give Gov. Jan Brewer another chance to reconsider her feelings about sparklers.

On a 5-3 margin Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee approved legislation that would permit anyone 16 and older to purchase and use sparklers and similar devices. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said HB2246 would bring Arizona into line with every other state west of the Mississippi River.

Biggs nearly succeeded in making that happen last year. But at the last minute Brewer, who previously said she had no problems with sparklers - and played with them herself as a child - vetoed legislation virtually identical to what the committee approved Wednesday.

Biggs said he is hoping for a different result this time.

He noted that the governor, in nixing last year's bill, said she was influenced by letters of opposition from rural and urban elected officials, as well as the U.S. Forest Service.

What the governor did not take to heart, he said, is that this bill, like the one last year, does not overrule federal regulations keeping sparklers out of federal forests. And it allows the state fire marshal to regulate their use on state lands.

The legislation, like last year's version, allows cities to retain a local ban on sparkler use, though they could not bar stores from selling them. And Biggs said he would be willing to let Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, add an amendment to let county supervisors restrict their use during periods of high fire dangers.

Brewer, however, was noncommittal.

"I haven't been briefed on it," she said. "Nor have I read the legislation. I certainly will review it."

Wednesday's vote came over the objections of Phoenix Fire Marshal Barbara Koffron. She said letting cities ban the use of sparklers while letting anyone sell them is a recipe for fires and accidents.

"Circle Ks, gasoline, liquor and fireworks - oh my!" she testified.

That brought an angry response from Biggs.

"I understand trying to conflate fear and engender fear on this bill," he said, saying Koffron's comments are "really demagoging as opposed to arguing facts."

Biggs pointed out that his measure, crafted by fireworks manufacturers, would not legalize the more dangerous devices in their arsenal.

Off limits would be anything that explodes like firecrackers or M-80s. So would anything that sends projectiles into the air like bottle rockets or Roman candles.

What would be legal, other than sparklers, are fountains that spray off sparks, ground spinners and toy smoke devices.

Sale would be limited to those at least 16 years old. There would be no age restriction on actually setting them off.

Committee members briefly discussed the possibility of raising the age of purchase to 18. Biggs said that made no sense, as teens that age can drive cars.

"That's far riskier," he said.

The legislation, which now goes to the full House, is the latest bid in what has become nearly a two-decade effort by fireworks manufacturers to be able to sell sparklers here.

Lawmakers have been more than willing. But various forms of the bill were vetoed by former governors, including Fife Symington and Jane Hull in the 1990s.

Backers didn't even bother to try during the six years Janet Napolitano was governor.

But they thought they had it nailed last year when Brewer took over after Napolitano quit. After all, the governor said she played with sparklers while growing up in California.

"Not only that, I visited in Montana, and they offered sparklers everywhere throughout the Midwest," she told Capitol Media Services at the time. "And then, as my children were growing up, they played with sparklers, too, in Mexico."

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