AUGUSTA — A slate of bills that would place new restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks failed to launch Monday. Lawmakers on the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee tabled four bills that do everything from restrict the hours and dates fireworks could be used in Maine to set up fireworks-free zones around farms with livestock. Other bills, including one that would repeal the 2011 law legalizing consumer fireworks in Maine, also were likely to be tabled and may not be acted on again until January 2014, according to Rep. Mike Lajoie, D-Lewiston. Lajoie, a retired fire chief, is the the sponsor of LD 111, the bill that repeals the legalization of consumer fireworks. "We would like to find some kind of proactive approach that can accommodate everybody's concerns," Lajoie said.
He said all the bills likely would be worked into one that takes a comprehensive look at greater regulation of consumer fireworks — the ones that are bought over the counter — in Maine.
Another bill, LD 168, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, would be the likely vehicle for all fireworks legislation, Lajoie said via cellphone from the State House. Lajoie said he was open to tabling his bill, which is expected to come up for work session before the committee again March 25.
Lajoie said he understands the concerns of the fledgling consumer fireworks industry in Maine, which could be put out of business with any law changes. "But I also understand and respect the concerns of my constituents, and many of them are dealing with the unintended consequences of the legalization of fireworks in this state," Lajoie said.
Several lawmakers, especially Republicans, have argued the law legalizing fireworks in Maine allows for local control. Cities and towns can set their own ordinances to limit, control and even ban fireworks as they see fit.
During testimony last week officials from the consumer fireworks industry said the state's 17 retail operations employ as many as 500 people on a seasonal basis and another 25 to 30 on a full-time year-round basis.
"The law to transfer fireworks regulation from the state to local communities was a jobs bill that has paid off big-time," House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said in a prepared statement Monday. "It would be a shame to take this freedom away from Maine communities and these jobs away from Maine people.”
But opponents say Maine's fireworks law has created a patchwork of confusing local rules that undermine public safety and are difficult to enforce.
Testimony offered by the State Fire Marshal's Office last week showed that in 2012 consumer fireworks were a factor in 20 structure fires, 38 wild fires and 20 injuries treated at Maine hospitals.