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EYE ON ILLINOIS: Can’t ignore risk, but it’s growing harder to oppose fireworks legalization

It’s July in Illinois, which means three things:

1. Amateurs blasting illegal fireworks they imported from neighboring states.

2. Neighbors complaining about the noise and mess.

3. Lawmakers arguing we should fix the first issue by steamrolling over the second.

Illinois’ Fireworks Regulation Act has been on the books for 85 years, but it, Ohio and Vermont are alone in limiting consumer purchases to sparklers and novelty items. Massachusetts bans all consumer pyrotechnics. The last border fell when Iowa legalized consumer fireworks in 2017, which correlated with spikes in emergency room visits both there and here.

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal said 56 participating medical providers attributed 126 injuries and one death to fireworks between June 23 and July 20, 2019. The agency issued a news release last week “raising concerns about an increase in use of novelty fireworks and illegal fireworks in Illinois” since many municipalities are scuttling annual Independence Day displays as a COVID-19 concession.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, has been trying to change the law in Illinois for pretty much the entirety of his Senate career. He pegs the state’s potential annual haul from sales tax around $10 million and at times said at least half that money should go to fire prevention efforts.

I don’t care for amateur hour — which tends to stretch into amateur week and month, especially with fewer folks away on vacation this summer — and wouldn’t let my sons near anything so dangerous, but it’s getting harder to argue against the common sense aspects of plugging the retail leakage.

Like all states, Illinois has long legalized, taxed and regulated alcohol and tobacco, both of which can be dangerous to the immediate user and innocent bystanders. By leading the way in the Midwest on recreational marijuana legalization, we’ve proven the public’s desire for consumption can have a positive effect on government revenue.

Keeping fireworks on the taboo list is arguably inconsistent with an otherwise laissez-faire approach. It seems disingenuous to write last week that Illinois should join Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota in charging parking fees for state parks as a means of funding those facilities, then to come back today and say it’s foolish to give up our status as the regional fireworks island.

We can’t pretend fireworks are safe and that expanding what’s allowable here won’t increase the crunch on emergency medicine and fire response. People already lose fingers and vision with illegally imported explosives. Even if that’s a small percentage of overall users, surely legalization would change the math.

I don’t use tobacco or marijuana products, but I benefit from their sale. The same could be true of fireworks once enough lawmakers decide the benefit outweighs the cost.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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