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Rolly: To ban or not to ban, fireworks law is confusing

By paul rolly

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jul 03 2012 02:03 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 11:31 pm

It might be back to the drawing board for Utah legislators who have changed, then tweaked, and may need to change again, the rules governing fireworks.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, the architect of recent fireworks laws, believes that Holladay, Alpine and smaller towns that have banned Fourth of July fireworks are in violation of state law. If the bans are enforced, a violator may get out of a citation simply by invoking the state law, he says.

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Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, ushered through a bill in 2011 expanding the types of fireworks that legally could be set off and lengthened the time period they are legal. This year, he ran another bill cutting back the time periods after numerous complaints from residents.

Still, the aerial fireworks are legal under state law and cities cannot ban them, he says.

Under the state statutes, the state forester has the authority to ban the use of fireworks on state lands and unincorporated areas of counties, but not in incorporated cities and towns. Dunnigan, citing the analysis he received from legislative lawyers, says city and town leaders cannot usurp state law, so they can’t issue an all-out ban, either.

But the statute does give city and town officials the discretion to limit where the fireworks are set off for safety reasons, and Holladay City Attorney Craig Hall says that gives the cities room to ban certain types of fireworks to protect their residents. Holladay has banned aerial fireworks but is still allowing non-aerial fireworks in certain areas.

"It’s a patchwork," Ally Isom, director of communications for Gov. Gary Herbert, said of the current law.

Herbert has said there is no need for a special legislative session to address the issue. But it looks like some clarification needs to be done in January in the general session.

Getting what you wish for» The horrific wildfires consuming much of the state also come on the heels of the federal government cutting the annual U.S. Forest Service Rural Fire Assistant grants this year.

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For Utah, it means losing $1 million used to provide equipment and training for local fire departments so they can effectively fight wildfires on and near federal lands.

The smaller departments don’t have the resources to buy and maintain needed equipment without those grants, said Steve Lutz, assistant director of Utah Fire and Rescue Academy. And they are feeling the pressures this year. Lutz said officials planned to equip the fire departments with radios so they could communicate on the same frequency. Without the grant, that didn’t happen.

False memory? » Three weeks ago Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, saying: "We do not need to hire more cops or firefighters."

That was just before wildfires began destroying large areas of Utah and Colorado, threatening entire communities, while first responders struggled to keep up with their limited resources and personnel.

Romney went on to criticize Obama’s call to keep cops, firefighters and teachers on the job, chiding: "Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?"

Romney must have missed the part in the Wisconsin recall election that Gov. Scott Walker, who survived the recall, exempted cops and firefighters from his crackdown on public employees’ bargaining rights.


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