The House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees will hold a joint hearing this Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss fireworks regulations, which have prompted safety concerns across the commonwealth since the state expanded their legal sale and use in 2017.
Existing law prohibits the use of fireworks on any property without the owner’s permission, from inside a car or a construction area, toward a vehicle, home, or person, or within 150 feet of a home or office building.
However, the expanded law, meant to serve as an added state revenue source, prompted concern as communities experienced increased injuries, fires, and noise complaints tied to fireworks.
Earlier this year, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), the author of Pennsylvania’s fireworks law, accused local authorities of trying to “pass the buck” instead of enforcing the law — arguing that it’s as simple as mandating traffic laws.
But after a series of fireworks-related incidents happened over Independence Day weekend, Yaw said he was open to more restrictive policies.
In March, Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) proposed legislation repealing the 2017 fireworks law. Schweyer, who voted in favor of the 2017 legislation, said he proposed the repeal in response to community concerns.
The 2017 legislation intended to create a revenue source for the state and let Pennsylvanians use “more powerful fireworks.” But the law resulted in irresponsible use, Schweyer wrote in a memo.
Thirty-one lawmakers, including one GOP sponsor Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester) signed on as co-sponsors, but it has not left the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
In a July memo, Yaw asked colleagues to support legislation to offer guidance to local governments on reasonable controls for using fireworks, implement time restrictions on discharging them, and increase the criminal penalties for selling or using consumer fireworks in violation of the law.
Last year, Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) said Pennsylvania’s existing fireworks law is “broken” and suggested repealing it.
“Too many of our residents are getting hurt and even killed,” she said in a statement, which came one year after she introduced legislation that would let municipalities regulate fireworks. The bill never moved out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), who chairs the Senate panel, sponsored legislation in 2015 to legalize the sale and use of consumer fireworks, calling it a “common sense” proposal.
Vogel’s district is also home to two of the country’s largest fireworks production companies, Zambelli Fireworks and Pyrotecnico. Both companies are headquartered in New Castle in Lawrence County, dubbed the “Fireworks Capital of America.”
But support for reform hasn’t fizzled out.
Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) became the latest lawmaker to propose legislation for more restrictive fireworks use.
In a Dec. 3 memo to colleagues seeking support, Scavello announced plans to amend the fireworks law, citing increased fireworks-related injuries and property loss since 2017.
“My office has received many complaints about fireworks activity from residents, especially seniors, veterans, parents with small children, and people with pets,” he wrote. “We have also heard from municipal officials and emergency service personnel who have also raised concerns.”
The forthcoming bill would restrict fireworks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, and from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
Scavello’s proposal also outlines setbacks for consumer-grade fireworks to 500 feet per residential property line and 2,500 feet per farm property line. A portion of the tax revenue generated from the sale of fireworks would go to municipalities to support enforcement.
“This legislation makes changes to current law to allow for the use of fireworks while helping to ensure public safety and peace,” Scavello wrote.
Marley Parish is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.