Ohio lawmakers debate legalizing backyard fireworks

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize shooting off fireworks — Roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers and more — 24/7 on private property across the state, unless local restrictions are put in place.

Opponents of Senate Bill 72 say there is movement afoot to include a provision in the bill to allow older children to shoot off fireworks with adult supervision.

The Senate Transportation Committee delayed action on the bill on Wednesday. A similar bill is also pending in the Ohio House.

The legislation is supported by Phantom Fireworks and Hamburg Fireworks. Opponents include insurance companies, medical associations and victims of backyard fireworks accidents. Also, veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder testified against the bill.

Eric Rathburn of Columbus was struck in the face by a mis-fired firework ignited during a backyard party in 2009. His shatterproof glasses broke in half, cutting his right eye, which led to surgery, a long recovery and permanent vision damage.

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“I was an innocent bystander at a friend’s cookout, minding my own business, having fun, who was injured by a firework illegally shot off from a friend’s backyard,” Rathburn said in written testimony in May.

Legalizing the long-standing practice of shooting off fireworks will lead to more injuries for unlucky bystanders, he said.

“Instead of passing a law to allow for discharge, we should be spreading the message that fireworks are not safe to set off in your own yard,” testified Jay Northrup, a captain in the Euclid Fire Department, who was hit in the face by a fireworks mortar at a 2016 4th of July party.

Danial Peart, lobbyist for Youngstown-based Phantom Fireworks, said in testimony that the industry has delivered safer products in recent years, leading to a decrease in injuries even while fireworks use has increased.

Before 1983, Ohio banned purchase, possession and discharge of fireworks. The law changed to allow the purchase if buyers promised to take the fireworks out of state.

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