A House committee Monday rejected a ban on the retail sale of aerial fireworks proposed in an effort to stop fires.
Opponents said they voted against the bill in part because it wouldn’t halt fireworks sales on Indian tribal lands.
The rejection drew quick condemnation from fire officials who had pushed the change in response to incidents such as last June’s fireworks-caused Table Rock wildfire. That blaze consumed 2,500 acres of Foothills land, destroyed one home, and cost taxpayers an estimated $341,000.
The Henry’s Creek Fire in Idaho Falls last August, also caused by fireworks, consumed more than 52,000 acres and cost $4.3 million to contain. Suspects have been charged in both cases.
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“The ability to purchase illegal fireworks apparently trumps the right of residents to protect their home from fires,” Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said in a statement.
The measure died in the House State Affairs Committee on a 6-9 vote after a 40-minute discussion. Such detailed review normally happens at a full hearing after the bill is introduced.
“This summer, when someone’s home burns down due to aerial fireworks, you can blame the House State Affairs Committee,” Doan said in his statement.
Meridian Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer also put out a statement, saying he “was hoping this would be the year that we finally closed the loophole.”
“It simply does not make sense to allow something to be sold within Idaho that is illegal to ignite within our state,” Niemeyer said.
Responding to objections that the ban didn’t cover fireworks sales on reservations, Sponsor Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, noted that tribal lands are sovereign entities within the state and fall under federal regulation. Opponents were unswayed.
“I have a difficult time supporting it when you refuse to actually address the sources of all illegal fireworks in my area, which is the reservations,” said Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom.
Others cited difficulty with enforcement and regulation.
“I think it does not even come close to doing what it’s attempting to do,” said Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian.
Erpelding said advocates would need to “go back to the drawing board” and consider other penalties and enforcement methods. He also cited a “double standard” within the committee for bills sponsored by Democrats.
The panel’s Republican majority “will allow Sharia law bills to get printed,” Erpelding said. “But when 49,000 people in one district, plus all the other people around them and the fire chiefs in the state say they want this bill heard, they vote it down? That’s a double standard.”