Act 43 of 2017 expanded the sale and use of fireworks in Pennsylvania to “consumer fireworks.” These fireworks have an aerial and explosive element compared to “ground fireworks” for sale prior to Act 43. Since enactment, public safety personnel have reported a significant increase in fireworks-related incidents and injuries, as well as significant constituent complaints. Furthermore, Act 43 preempts local regulation via municipal ordinance.
In 2020, The League updated its policy on consumer fireworks. The League is now advocating for a full repeal of Act 43.
House Committee Adopts Changes to the Fireworks Law
During the last week of April, the House Agriculture Committee met to consider amendments to House Bill 2157, introduced by Representative Frank Farry, that address the illegal use of consumer fireworks.
This action was in response to the December 2021 public hearing where The League and PSATC called on the General Assembly to address the public safety and quality of life concerns that have plagued communities since the legalization of consumer fireworks in 2017. In January, Committee Chair Dan Moul agreed to work toward a solution; and last week draft language was circulated for stakeholder input.
At the April 27th Committee meeting, two amendments were offered and adopted unanimously. The amended bill also received a unanimous vote to pass it out of Committee to the full House.
The amended bill moves the fireworks law from the Tax Code back to Title 3 (Agriculture) where it was housed prior to the 2017 legalization of consumer fireworks. While much of the underlying law remains unchanged, there are positive changes aimed at curbing the illegal use of consumer fireworks. Following is a list of these new provisions.
- The bill adds clarifying language to prohibition of use on public property by enumerating examples of public property. The bill also clarifies that the 150-foot clearance rule is from any structure (not just unoccupied structures) or vehicle including a structure or vehicle owned by the user.
- In dense municipalities where the 150-foot clearance rule makes discharging fireworks illegal throughout, the bill contains clear language that a municipality can pass an ordinance prohibiting use.
- The bill allows municipalities to permit the use of consumer fireworks and charge a reasonable fee. There is an exception to permitting outlined in the bill for the July 4, December 31, Labor Day and Memorial Day holidays.
- Consumer fireworks use is curbed on most days of the year with language prohibiting use between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. There is an exception for July 4 and December 31 when use is allowed until 1 a.m. When July 4 falls mid-week, use is allowed until 1 a.m. on the immediately preceding and following Friday and Saturday.
- The bill adds a conditional use provision of no less than 150 feet from an animal housing facility or fenced area for livestock. The owner or manager of the livestock must be given written notice 72 hours in advance of a neighbor using consumer fireworks.
- The bill authorizes municipalities to enact limitations on the sale or use of consumer fireworks that do not conflict with the law. Pending solicitor guidance, possible limitations could include regulations through noise and nuisance ordinances.
- The bill authorizes confiscation of any unused fireworks if being used in violation of the law.
- The bill requires sellers to conspicuously post or provide notice to purchasers of the prohibitions on use including notice that individual municipalities may have additional restrictions.
- The bill increases the penalty to no more than $500 for a first offense. For subsequent offenses within three years of a prior conviction, the fine is increased to no more than $1000. There is also an increase in fines and penalties for illegal sales.
- The bill updates the definition of consumer fireworks to match the American Pyrotechnics Association 2018 Standard.
- Finally, the full 12% tax collected on consumer fireworks will be directed annually to public safety as opposed to the $2 million cap in current law. In fiscal year 2020/2021, revenue was $14 million. The revenue would be distributed as follows:
- $1.5 million for Emergency Medical Service Grants;
- $250,000 for the Online Training Educator and Training Reimbursement Account for delivering, developing and sustaining training programs for both volunteer and career firefighters. This was previously limited to volunteer firefighters only;
- $1 million for PA Higher Education Assistance Agency to provide loan forgiveness and tuition assistance to students or graduates who are active volunteers;
- $1 million for the Department of Health to train EMS personnel;
- $500,000 for the Office of the State Fire Commissioner to provide emergency services training center capital grants;
- $500,000 for the Office of the State Fire Commissioner to provide career fire department capital grants;
- $250,000 for the Office of the State Fire Commissioner to provide for a public education and safety campaign around the safe use of consumer fireworks; and
- Any remaining money shall be divided equally, 50 percent for the Emergency Medical Services Grant Program and 50 percent for the Fire Company Grant Program.
The bipartisan, unanimous approval of the bill as it exited Committee signals that these updates to the law will continue to move forward.