The latest attempt to end a decades-old prohibition on fireworks sales in Florida received its first hearing in the state Senate Wednesday, and it was a bit bumpy.
The bill cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on a 8-2 vote, but bill sponsor Greg Steube admits it still needs some work.
For more than half a century, Florida law on fireworks has been banned, but there is a loophole that allows fireworks to be used “solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”
What that means is that Floridians who purchase fireworks from roadside stands are usually asked to sign a form acknowledging that they fall under one of the exemptions, which gives legal cover for fireworks vendors that buyers will actually use them for the purposes that they describe in the form.
Like scaring birds.
Lawmakers in recent sessions, including former state Rep. and now U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, have tried to change the law to no avail. This time around, it’s Steube, a Sarasota Republican. He filed a bill (SB 198) to legalize consumer fireworks.
St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes asked Steube how many people he thought committed fraud when they filed the forms. Steube replied that he thought it was around 99.9 percent.
“We’ve created this unique situation where we all allow people to commit fraud every day and the government turns a blind eye to it,” said Brandes, who said perhaps the simpler rule would be to change the form instead of jettisoning it.
Lobbyist Ron Book, representing American Promotional Events, said his client strongly objected to eliminating the forms, saying it indemnifies the seller. “The industry is happy the way things are here,” he said.
He did add that the form could be enhanced to include “general use” in addition to the provision on agriculture, as is now the case.
In addition to removing the ban, Steube’s bill also will prohibit those under the age of 18 from purchasing fireworks.
Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II said if the bill encourages people in his district to shoot off fireworks—and not guns—on the 4th of July and on New Year’s Eve, he’s good with it.
With two more stops before the bill would go to the Senate floor, Steube said he’d be happy to work with any senator in improving the measure.