Suburban lawmaker wants to lift state’s fireworks ban

Fireworks could be legal in Illinois by next Fourth of July, if legislation introduced by a suburban lawmaker comes to fruition.

House Bill 5928, filed last week by state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, aims to lift the state’s 76-year-old ban on most consumer-grade fireworks such as Roman candles and firecrackers. The legislation would create the Pyrotechnic Use Act of 2018 to regulate the licensing, sale and purchase of the explosives beyond sparklers.

Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, said she believes residents should be able to celebrate Independence Day without the risk of a fine or arrest. Illinois is one of four states to prohibit the sale and use of pyrotechnics.

“Illinois is already an outlier in so many ways, and this another silly example,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Illinoisans, like residents in 46 other states, can and should be trusted to responsibly use consumer fireworks and take care of themselves.”

Permitting fireworks sales also would put additional tax dollars into the state’s coffers, Wheeler said. Indiana has generated about $2.5 million in tax revenue every year since it loosened its fireworks restrictions, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Iowa estimates bringing in $1.5 million this year after legalizing fireworks in 2017.

“Not only does it make sense to give a little independence back to the people for Independence Day, but it will also generate some business and tax revenue for the state that will help mitigate some of the exodus of people leaving the state,” Wheeler said.

Despite the state’s ban, the number of fireworks-related injuries has been rising in the last five years, peaking at 349 in 2017, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. At about 2.7 injuries per 100,000 people, Illinois’ rate is higher than Wisconsin’s but lower than in Indiana, two neighboring states where consumer fireworks are legal.

Wheeler acknowledged the safety concerns associated with fireworks and recommended following U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. Her legislation, modeled after similar acts in other states, would offer rules such as limiting the purchase of consumer fireworks to people over the age of 18 and restricting their use to at least 200 feet from any structure, vehicle or person.