COLUMBUS - After years of false starts, state lawmakers have passed a bill, expected to get the governor's signature, to allow Ohioans to set off consumer-grade fireworks on certain holidays beginning with next year's Independence Day season.
It will eliminate current law that requires someone who buys fireworks from an Ohio retailer to take the product outside the state within 48 hours before using it. The law places the state in the odd situation of allowing the sale of a product to consumers that they are not legally allowed to use in Ohio, and the law is frequently ignored.
Massachusetts is the only other state to prohibit use of consumer-grade fireworks by the public.
The bill still allows local municipalities to ban or restrict fireworks use within their borders.
"Today we have an opportunity to put to bed an issue that has confronted the last four General Assemblies," state Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said Wednesday before the Ohio House of Representatives voted 72-24 to forward the final bill to Gov. Mike DeWine's desk.
"We are on the verge of getting a bill that the governor has promised us he will sign," Mr. Seitz said. "The Senate sent us a strong, clear message, 26-5. Let's show them we are their equal and get this bill passed so we won't have to talk about fireworks anymore."
House Bill 172, sponsored by state Reps. Brian Baldridge (R., Winchester) and Michael O'Brien (D., Warren), would allow Ohioans to purchase and keep 1.4G consumer-grade fireworks like firecrackers and bottle rockets.
They could be set off on New Year's Eve and Day, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, Juneteenth, July 3-5 and the preceding and following Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and Diwali. This provision will take effect on July 1.
State lawmakers had passed a similar bill last spring, but Mr. DeWine vetoed it. Negotiations since resulted in a fine-tuning of the holidays involved and a reduced expansion of floor space for fireworks wholesalers.
The bill would originally have allowed wholesalers to double their square footage from the currently allowed 5,000. Negotiations led to that being dropped to 7,500. Wholesalers expanding beyond 5,000 must install certain fire-suppression equipment, including upgraded industrial sprinklers.
Retailers would pay a 4 percent fee on their gross sales to fund enforcement, training, and safety efforts of the state fire marshal.
This bill and its predecessors have been supported by the fireworks industry and Ohio Chamber of Commerce but opposed by advocates for the blind.
"Just like there is no safe way to drive under the influence or speed, there is no safe way to use fireworks," Sherill Williams, Ohio president and CEO of Prevent Blindness, told a Senate committee Tuesday. "There are thousands of serious injuries caused by discharge of consumer fireworks every year and half are to innocent bystanders."
State Rep. Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon) cast the sole negative vote among northwest Ohio legislators.