BOISE -- State lawmakers voted down a bill to prevent the sale of illegal fireworks in Idaho.
Under a loophole in state law, illegal aerial fireworks - those that aren't considered "'safe and sane" - are legally sold in Idaho. Currently, vendors are allowed to sell them if the buyer signs an affidavit agreeing to use them outside the state.
The Boise Fire Department says six homes in Ada County were burned down last year as a result of illegal fireworks, including one during the 2,500-acre Table Rock Fire which cost taxpayers more than $340,000.
"All it did was say the fireworks that are already illegal cannot be sold," Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said. "Why do we have something illegal - already deemed by the state Legislature in state law that's illegal - but we're going to allow the sell? So we were trying to close that loophole."
The bill set out to tighten language in Idaho code: it would have amended the law to require fireworks importers or wholesalers to keep a record of the buyer's permit for public display; revise exceptions in the law; and add a new section to provide that "the sale of fireworks to out-of-state resident without valid license or permit is prohibited, to provide that the seller shall ascertain license or permit requirements of other states and to provide requirements for seller's records".
"Regulation is important but whether or not we need to micro-manage or keep track of every purchaser, that may be a little problematic because, again, you have to weigh costs: what [is it] going to cost the state to enforce such a law," Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri (District 2) told KTVB.
On Monday, six lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee voted "Ay" and nine voted "Nay" on the legislation, opposing the introduction of the bill and refusing a hearing.
"I'm shocked and outraged," Chief Doan said.
Chief Doan has been passionate about this issue for years and worked closely with Democratic Rep. Mat Erpelding in drafting this particular legislation.
"We're spending millions of taxpayer dollars, people are losing their homes and [legislators] don't care. They're indifferent," Chief Doan added.
Republican Rep. James Holtzclaw (District 20) said he couldn't vote for it because it was infringing on people's liberties; he says fireworks represent patriotism.
He also said the bill didn't apply to Native American reservations, since tribes are sovereign under the federal government so state firework law doesn't apply to them.
"You'd have one faction still able to sell these and no one else could. In my mind, I couldn't get past that, I just didn't feel like it was fair," Rep. Holtzclaw added.
"Are we going to continue this uneven playing field where the tribes are given exceptions because we have no jurisdiction over them but we continue to regulate private parties to the disadvantage of private parties?" Rep. Barbieri said.
However, while Chief Doan acknowledges that's the case, he doesn't agree it's a legitimate reason to oppose this legislation that would close a loophole in firework law.
"It's very short-sighted to say that because you can sell them on the reservations we should just allow them to be sold here," Chief Doan told KTVB.
Some lawmakers opposed to the bill also say the language was confusing and didn't seem to be doing what Rep. Erpelding hoped it would.
"The language in the bill - the additions and changes he made - did not appear to accomplish that which he was trying to do, which was prevent sales and use within the state of Idaho to prevent fires," Rep. Barbieri told KTVB.
Meridian Fire Department Chief Mark Niemeyer also echoed Chief Doan's disappointment in a statement on Monday:
“Every year I receive several calls from citizens frustrated over the amount of illegal fireworks going off in their neighborhood. And every year I sympathize and tell them a loophole in the law is allowing it. I was hoping this would be the year that we finally closed the loophole,” Chief Niemeyer said.
He goes on to say, "We know folks buying illegal fireworks are not driving to other states to ignite them, even though they’re signing an agreement stating they will. What the fire chiefs in Idaho were asking for was consistency in the law,” Chief Niemeyer said.
Meridian Police Department Chief Jeff Lavey said in a statement:
“While many municipalities have taken it upon themselves to write ordinances that prohibit the sale of illegal aerial fireworks within their communities, it’s unfortunate that there is no consistency across our state. It simply does not make sense to allow something to be sold within Idaho that is illegal to ignite within our state. The enforcement of illegal fireworks grows more difficult each year since the violations have outnumbered any reasonable response from law enforcement."
Chief Doan says he is at a loss for what to do now, but is calling on the community to reach out to their legislators if they want change to happen.
A statement from Rep. Erpelding's office says he is "considering all options going forward including potential legislation that would toughen the penalties for people who cause fires using aerial fireworks."