Watered-Down Fireworks Ban Left to Fizzle

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A  bill to rein in illegal fireworks has passed the House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate. The legislation was put forth at the behest of North Providence residents who were fed up with noise from banned fireworks during the summer. It’s a nuisance that many residents say has increased since Rhode Island legalized low-level fireworks such as sparklers and sparkling fountains in 2010.

The bill would prohibit the use of some low-level fireworks and the non-permitted use of aerial and display fireworks between midnight and 7 a.m. Those fireworks include bottle rockets, Roman candles, ground-mounted tubes that launch a bursting charge, commercial displays and firecrackers.

Mary Lyons, one of the North Providence residents pushing for the legislation, said the bill is inadequate. “It’s disappointing,” she said. “I wasn’t happy with it. But I understand that these things do take time.”

After discussions with the bill’s sponsor, Arthur Corvese, D-North Providence, Lyons expects that, like most first-time bills, it will take several years for an adequate solution to pass through the General Assembly.

“The good thing that comes out of this is that more people realize there are people out there fighting for this and doing something about it,” she said.

The initial version of the bill banned the use of Class C fireworks, which were made legal in 2010 to help retailers and bring in more tax revenue. Many are sold seasonally in pop-up stores and under parking lot tents. During House and Senate hearings, several residents complained of the increased noise and threat of fires, along with the use of illegal fireworks, in recent years.

During the June 9 House Judiciary hearing, Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, said the nighttime ban starts too late for some people.

“It’s a little disappointing that the curfew is from midnight until 7 in the morning,” she said.

During previous hearings, supporters of the ban said the proliferation of fireworks and neighborhood use is a fire hazard and panics the elderly. They said the noise frightens infants and pets, and disturbs veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Birds, in particular, are known to abandon their nests if numerous fireworks explode simultaneously.

A Rhode Island emergency room physician testified that injuries, especially to teenagers and young adults, has increased in Rhode Island since Class C fireworks were approved.

A lobbyist for the fireworks industry said the legal use of Class C fireworks reduces the use of illegal, more dangerous ones.

Under the legislation, the penalty for violating the proposed ban would be $75. There is no mention in the bill of helping police address the challenge of catching violators.

The bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing. It’s not certain that a hearing will be scheduled by the end of the session, which typically ends before July 1.