York County senators join calls for fireworks crackdown

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Independence Day fireworks celebration at Springettsbury Park, Sunday, July 1, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

A pair of York County senators plan to take a second look at a state law passed in 2017 that made larger fireworks available for purchase.

They joined a growing number of state lawmakers mulling a walk-back of the law Friday following complaints from constituents and local governments. 

"I think (the law) needs to be looked at," said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, on Friday. "Last night was just a mess. ... I'm a strict defender of people's rights, but freedom without responsibility or accountability — you're going to end up losing that freedom."

There were 237 fireworks-related complaints in York County between Monday, July 1, and Thursday, July 4, said county spokesman Mark Walters. That's down from 331 last year, when complaints doubled after the new law took effect.

Despite the decrease, the complaints are well above the average before 2017, and lawmakers and city officials are questioning the state's decision.

More:New fireworks law sparks twice as many complaints in York County

More:Rain doesn't stop daylong Fourth of July celebration in Jacobus

Now that budget season is over, Folmer intends to take the Senate GOP Caucus' temperature on revisiting the fireworks law. Offenders "just flip you off" when officials ask that they respect their neighbors, Folmer said.

"They just don't care," he added.

New law: The updated fireworks measure became law in October 2017 as a provision in a larger tax code bill. It has since brought the state millions in revenue on top of local officials' and residents' headaches.

The provision permitted Pennsylvanians to buy fireworks that contain up to 50 milligrams of explosive materials — items that previously were available for purchase only by out-of-state residents.

The law imposed some restrictions, including making it illegal to set off fireworks on any property without permission of the owner. It also banned the use of fireworks while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and barred their use within 150 feet of any occupied structure.

In York City, because of the firework law's restrictions, there are very few places, if any, where it is legal to set them off.

But that hasn't stopped residents from setting them off and causing a ruckus, said Philip Given, acting director of the Economic and Community Development Department, adding lawmakers "should take a serious" look at the law.

"We continue to receive complaints not just through the York City Police Department but also directly to city hall and the mayor's office regarding fireworks," Given said. "We share the concerns of our residents and would caution individuals choosing to light fireworks in the City of York."

Proposal: Rep. Frank Farry, R-Berks, in May became the only lawmaker this session to propose legislation modifying the law that has brought concerns statewide.

Farry's legislation would provide guidance to local governments for "reasonable controls for the sale and use of fireworks," implement time constraints on when fireworks can be discharged and better provide consumers information about the state's restrictions.

It also would increase criminal penalties for selling or using fireworks in violation of the act, according to the bill summary. It has yet to be sent to a House committee

“This thing got backdoored in, and we need to do things to protect the public,” Farry told The (Allentown) Morning Call  last week.

On the other hand, York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon said he believes residents are beginning to better familiarize themselves with the existing rules. His department received 24 complaints last week.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, a Republican whose district includes York City, opposed the 2017 measure from the beginning and said she would gladly participate in talks to bolster the regulation of the sale and use of fireworks.

"I felt this was not a good way to go from the beginning, and I'm all in for having that conversation again," Phillips-Hill said. "I mostly hear (complaints) from densely populated boroughs and some of the city." 

Fires: There were at least two fireworks-related fires last week in York County, according to the Southern Pennsylvania Incident Network.

Those incidents were a structure fire in Dover Township and a brush fire in Springettsbury Township, where a tree caught on fire, according to the SPIN Facebook page. Neither was serious, and no injuries were reported. 

One firework-related patient was admitted to WellSpan York Hospital last week, according to hospital spokesman Ryan Coyle. The individual was admitted for burns to their hand.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.