Florida's bizarre fireworks law still in place - Florida Politics

Florida’s bizarre fireworks law still in place

It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 62-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country.

That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

Every so often, lawmakers file bills either to remove or tighten certain exemptions, or to just legalize retail sales of fireworks. None have made it into law.

Three states have outright bans on consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz once tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now a congressman.

And state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

“Florida law on fireworks is absurd,” he told FloridaPolitics.com last year. “Current law forces law-abiding parents to commit fraud by signing forms declaring the fireworks they buy won’t be used as fireworks to celebrate freedom with their kids, but to scare birds off crops.”

Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold,” he added. “More freedom, less fraud.”

Most recently, state Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, this year filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida.

His bill (SB 324), which would have repealed the prohibition on selling fireworks to the general public, died in committee.

Editor’s Note: This story, which first ran last year, has been updated and re-published as a service to our readers.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

4 Comments

  1. They should ban ALL fireworks being sold to the public! There are many places to view fireworks done by professionals. The police do not enforce the laws. I have called them many times and they won’t come out. People are injured, dogs and people with PTSD are traumatized just so some redneck can shoot off fireworks in his back yard! End the fraud by ending the sales!

    1. You are one hundred percent right. If you every watched a person/child who has seizures because of the noise or flashing light you might change your mind. My niece had about 50 seizure on the forth that left her blind for 48 hour. Where are her rights!

  2. Pennsylvania has an equally foolish fireworks law. The fireworks vendors can’t sell to PA residents but they can sell to out of state residents. Sooooo….. you’ll find virtually all PA fireworks retailers located at the exits of interstate highways entering PA from other states, particularly NJ. Business is good enough that these retailers have permanent stores open all year long not just tents.

  3. My child has been suffering all day because of all the fireworks being let off next door right off her bedroom. She is autistic and cannot tolerate the loud noise of fireworks, especially that close. That’s why we don’t go to the fireworks display. What about the safety of our house as the fireworks come falling down? Is it safe to have amateurs out here letting off firework when your home is right next to them. There is a place for fireworks and you should have appropriate space between you and your neighbors. Our neighbors are new to the neighborhood so we haven’t experienced this before.

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