State House makes progress on reining in abusive use of fireworks

HARRISBURG, June 8 – Responding to the many concerns they have heard from local residents, Lehigh Valley lawmakers today voted to put some sensible restrictions on the use of consumer fireworks.

The state law concerning fireworks was loosened in 2017 to allow the use of fireworks more often and in many locations across Pennsylvania, but that usage has become a real nuisance on an almost weekly basis, particularly during warm weather.

The state House of Representatives passed legislation (H.B. 2157) that would extend the distance to 150 feet from buildings and vehicles where fireworks could be used, prohibit usage between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. except during the July 4 holiday and New Year’s Eve and give municipalities the option to ban their usage most of the year, except for Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

State Reps. Robert Freeman, Jeanne McNeill, Mike Schlossberg and Peter Schweyer said they would have preferred a ban on consumer fireworks, but the bill passed this week is a step in the right direction.

"As noted by conversations I had with many residents throughout Lehigh County, it seems as though there was an uptick in pyrotechnic use since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” McNeill said. “This increased nighttime activity added to the stresses in our communities: upsetting pets, depriving many from sleep, negatively impacting our veterans with PTSD and, in our cities, posing a safety issue. One resident described it as living in a 'war zone.’”

“This goes beyond the borders of Allentown,” Schweyer said. “Many of my colleagues in the House from Philadelphia to Easton and Pittsburgh to Erie have all shared similar fireworks problems in their communities. It is well past time to address this problem. This legislation would help restore quality of life back to our neighbors.”

Other changes in the bill would:

  • require competent knowledge of safety and handling to set off display fireworks.
  • drop the $2 million insurance to $1 million for municipalities for display fireworks.
  • increase the distance requirement (from 150 feet to 300 feet) in the Animal Housing Section and require written notification within 72 hours if consumer fireworks are shot off.

“This bill is not great, but it’s better than current law and that’s better than keeping the status quo,” Schlossberg said. “I’m particularly pleased with one provision in this bill that was important to local police. Under the measure, cops would be given the ability to seize fireworks as evidence if they were set off illegally.”

“We also needed to give local governments the ability to deal with this disruptive behavior and to impose substantial penalties for violating the law. Both of those items are covered in this legislation,” Freeman said. “The option for municipalities to ban the use of fireworks in their community, except for a number of limited holidays, provides a real opportunity to restore the quality of life and peace and quiet in our neighborhoods throughout the non-holiday days of the year.”

If enacted into law, penalties imposed under the bill would be:

  • violating the use of consumer fireworks fine would increase from $100 to up to $500.
  • violating the sales of consumer fireworks fine would be not less than $10,000 (current fine is up to $5,000).
  • violating the sales or use of display fireworks fine would be not less than $10,000 (current fine is up to $15,000).
  • violating the sales of federally illegal explosives fine would be not less than $10,000 (current fine is up to $15,000).
  • higher grades if a subsequent offense for the same violation results in a conviction within three years of the first conviction.

All of the legislators said they encourage anyone who uses fireworks to do so safely and follow state guidelines.

The legislation heads to the state Senate for consideration.