by Amy Kerr Hardin
Lake Orion, a charming little township nestled in Southeast Michigan’s Oakland County — “where living is a vacation” — is among many communities finding themselves under the assault of rampant abuse of fireworks since Michigan lawmakers enacted Public Act 256 expanding the general public’s access to airborne incendiaries back in 2011.
Not mincing his words, resident Bob Gritzinger recently took to social media to vent his frustration with neighbors for disrupting the peace and quiet of their lakeside community:
He’s not alone. There is a growing grassroots movement aimed at walking-back the controversial fireworks law. An on-line petition at MoveOn.org also been making the social media rounds garnering more than 22,000 signatures to date. Signer Sue Keller of Harrisville made comment on the petition that it’s not just about the obnoxious nature of the professional grade fireworks, but we must also consider that the “[c]ost of human accidents and deaths, the harming effects on nesting birds, wildlife, and pets is the reason to repeal this law.”
Avid birder Roger Taylor, host of Bird Watch on WKZO, explained the difference between traditional fireworks shows and what is currently occurring under this law:
“Large traditional fireworks are a very localized situation and are transitory so exhibitions of the type have a limited impact on birds.” Taylor makes a case for repealing PA 256. “To protect birds we need to put high powered fireworks back in the hands of trained professionals and most importantly SOBER trained professionals.”
Rep. Henry Yanez (D-25) is attempting to do just that with a legislative package he introduced in June. House Bills 4725 and 4726 would completely repeal the fireworks law. The tie-barred bills were referred to the House Committee on Regulatory Reform. Yanez related his concerns in a press release:
“As a former firefighter, I am acutely aware of the danger mishandled and misused fireworks pose. Certain fireworks, whether used properly or improperly, can cause serious property and environmental damage, and the injuries can be disfiguring and life-threatening. There’s just no good reason to have rockets, sky lanterns and other fireworks allowed under the 2011 law going off in our neighborhoods.”
This is not the first time lawmakers have taken-up legislation on the matter. Back in 2013 they passed PA 65 which granted local municipalities some leeway to enact ordinances placing some restrictions on fireworks within their community, along with the authority to additionally levy $500 fines for violations. The result was a hodgepodge of local laws that rarely inspire the adherence of fireworks enthusiasts. And unfortunately, even with the revenue incentive, few violators are nabbed — as reflected in the remarks of petition signer Joseph McDonald of Sterling Heights:
“I’ve been saying this till I’m blue in the face, but a law that is not enforceable is a bad law!! And this is a bad law!!…how many times have I called the police only to have them do nothing about it because they can’t catch idiots in the act of shooting them off!”
The statute has sparked controversy from its inception, and not just in terms of public outcry, but in the troubled mechanics of its regulatory enforcement. Four years ago, PA 256 was enacted hastily by a giddy gaggle of freshly elected GOP lawmakers celebrating their new majority status through legislative treachery — the same group to bring Michigan the Emergency Manager law (twice), plus the loathsome Right-to-Work law, along with a bevy of other legislative bugaboos. And, like those other laws, the fireworks legislation has become a public policy quagmire.
In 2014, Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General conducted a performance audit on the Michigan Bureau of Fire Safety revealing that the state had failed to properly inspect the burgeoning number of brick-and-mortar fireworks retailers popping-up in empty strip-malls across the state.
From the audit report:
- improper processing of fireworks vendor applications
- failure to comply with documentation requirements
- failure to meet processing deadlines 58 percent of the time
- Improperly approving ineligible applications received after annual April 1st deadline 55 percent of the time
- failure to retain site plans, and of those few on file, 58 percent did not meet safety requirements
- failure to conduct inspections in accordance with the law, and lack of supporting documentation
- failure to inspect facilities prior to their operation
A follow-up audit has not since been conducted, and according to the Auditor General, none is in the works. With the state government cut to the bare bones, Michigan residents aren’t likely to feel relief any time soon.