Politics & Government

After cacophony of complaints, lawmakers move to limit fireworks in Georgia

Georgia lawmakers approved a bill that would give cities and counties the power to limit fireworks during certain hours.
Georgia lawmakers approved a bill that would give cities and counties the power to limit fireworks during certain hours. jvorhees@macon.com

ATLANTA -- A few months of legal Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks in Georgia have been enough to startle state lawmakers into looking to limit the pyrotechnics, though they may also try to use some fireworks tax cash to bankroll hospitals and fire departments.

The next few days will determine which new fireworks laws, if any, could be put on the books.

Right now, Georgians can use fireworks from 10 a.m. until midnight most days and until 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, July 3 and July Fourth. Almost as soon as the law went into effect last summer, lawmakers started getting complaints about loud noise at all hours and people launching pyrotechnics in dangerous places, including under bridges.

Several bills have been drafted that would limit the days, times and places that people could use fireworks or that would give cities and counties the power to set their own limits.

"Every one of those bills is an improvement over current statute," said Todd Edwards, associate legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which lobbies on behalf of the state's 159 counties.

A pair of similar bills, House Bill 727 and Senate Bill 369, would limit personal fireworks on most days to the hours of 10 a.m. to midnight, though a city or county could decide to ban them after 10 p.m. On July 3 and July Fourth, however, all Georgians would be allowed to use fireworks until midnight, and for New Year's Eve they could be used until 1 a.m.

Neither bill has yet passed both chambers. For either one to become law this year, bill sponsors have only until March 24 to get approval from both the House and Senate to send a bill to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

The author of Senate Bill 369, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said he thinks the Legislature has the will to pass fireworks limits this year.

"We'll be there at the end," he said.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Mallory Jones has been watching the fireworks debate closely. He wants to know why anyone would launch fireworks at 10 a.m. when it's not dark.

"The simple solution is ... give local governments the right to set their times and hours," Jones said. "Turn it over to the local governments. Problem solved."

In a separate legislative move, Mullis is asking for some fireworks excise tax money to be spent on equipment for Georgia's firefighters, its trauma care system and 911 services.

That amount about $1 million annually, said state Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, who sponsored the measure in the House. But the funding would need approval first by lawmakers, then by Georgia voters in a public referendum this November.

"I think it's a good fit for the taxes on a dangerous but very popular item," Mullis said.

The state Senate has approved the idea of a public referendum. The full House is set to start considering it Monday.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.