Legal fireworks: freedom to choose

Look up in the Georgia skies during the Independence Day holiday, and you will see a night sky illuminated with fireworks. This has been the scene for many years, despite the fact that until Wednesday, July 1, this practice was largely illegal in Georgia. That was until my colleagues and I co-sponsored House Bill 110 during the 2015 legislative session to legalize the sale and use of consumer fireworks in this state.

The bill also established safety regulations and guidelines to determine who can buy, sell, possess and transport fireworks, as well as locations where fireworks can and cannot be used.

Growing up in the Augusta area, everyone just drove across the Savannah River to South Carolina, where sales were legal, and bought their holiday fireworks. As a child, making this bi-annual trek with my parents was exciting and much anticipated.

When I became an adult and chairman of the Columbia County Commission, I began to realize how much commerce and revenue was leaving our state and going to the coffers of our neighboring states every holiday season. This scenario played out over and over again, not just in the Augusta area, but in about every border city and town in Georgia, as our neighboring states enjoyed and profited from our laws, which drove our citizens to cross state lines to seek fireworks.

According to the American Pyrotechnic Association, revenues from consumer fireworks sales have seen unprecedented growth in recent years, totaling approximately $695 million in 2014. However, prior to HB 110, fireworks were being sold in four out of five of our neighboring states, while Georgia businesses were only allowed to sell sparklers. Now, fireworks revenue can remain in Georgia. This will give a boost to our economy, create new jobs as fireworks stores open, and allow Georgia business owners to take part in this profitable market.

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Although fireworks sales and usage are on the rise, the Pyrotechnic Association maintains fireworks-related injuries are among the lowest statistically when compared with other summertime outdoor activities. A study released in 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics noted fireworks-related injuries for children were less than 3 percent of those attributed to other common activities enjoyed outside, particularly activities during the Independence Day season.

There are many consumer products that pose threats to both adults and children if misused or not used responsibly, but it is crucial parents and guardians provide close supervision and educate children on safety precautions and the dangers of using fireworks in a manner that is illegal.

HB 110 sets provisions and parameters to ensure safe fireworks usage among minors. Fireworks can be sold only to individuals who are over 18 with valid photo ID. The bill also makes it unlawful for minors to explode, store or transport fireworks, and prohibits anyone under 18 from working as a retailer or wholesaler. However, anyone 16 or 17 years of age may possess and participate in the sale of fireworks if employed by a retailer licensed by the Safety Fire Commission.

This Independence Day, the likelihood of you or me breaking the law by enjoying traditional holiday fireworks is now greatly reduced. Parents should monitor their children when using fireworks to light up our neighborhood skies as we celebrate our nation’s independence. This will allow everyone to enjoy one of childhood’s highlights in a safe and fun way.

Contrary to the belief of many involved in politics today, our citizens are capable of making good decisions for themselves and their families, if government will just get out of their way. So thanks to the Georgia House, Senate and Gov. Nathan Deal, enjoy your Independence Day fireworks.

Let’s remember all the freedoms we have as we celebrate this Saturday — even the new freedom HB 110 provides for Georgians. But with freedom comes the responsibility to make it work for the greater good and enjoyment of our nation. Freedom without personal responsibility, even for something small like fireworks, is a freedom likely soon lost.

State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, represents District 121.

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