September 2021 —
The MLO Minute: By Dennis McAndrews, Esq. and Ally McAndrews, Esq. —
In 2017, Act 43 became law and significantly expanded the sale of legal fireworks in Pennsylvania. However, the “law of unintended consequences” has accompanied this expanded law and created “figurative fireworks” of its own. As a result, many people have been adversely affected, particularly for some individuals with special needs, senior citizens, pet owners, and local police departments.
The new law was accompanied by a tax and retail licensing fees with the hope of adding revenue to the coffers of Pennsylvania government. As anyone who has driven to Florida has observed, many southern states have long permitted private sale of many types of fireworks, and the new law in Pennsylvania expanded the sale of consumer fireworks containing a maximum of 50 mg of explosive material, such as firecrackers, Roman candles, and bottle rockets. Under the new law, fireworks cannot be discharged on public or private property without the express permission of the property owner, from or toward a motor vehicle or building, within 150 feet of an occupied structure, or while a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Despite these restrictions which reflect that there are few places in cities or suburbs where fireworks can be lawfully used outside of a licensed professional display, widespread violations of the law have occurred. These violations, including the loud, unanticipated noises, have caused some disturbing impacts upon individuals with disabilities (including persons with autism), combat veterans with PTSD, household pets, and horses. As a result, some public officials are lobbying for the repeal of Act 43 entirely. One local City Council president exclaimed that his city had become a “war zone” during the Fourth of July as a result of the illegal discharge of fireworks. In an effort to remedy the issues, the City of York created a special police unit to address fireworks complaints, and Pittsburgh set up a fireworks task force. Fireworks have caused structural and vehicle fires, as well as significant physical injuries. In Philadelphia, it was reported that in a one-month period, the Police Department fielded more than 8,500 firework complaints.
The impact upon individuals with special needs and others through the illegal use of fireworks has become a matter of serious concern to many families and advocacy groups. A number of legislative proposals are being offered to address these developments, and could result in substantial changes or even a repeal of the 2017 fireworks expansion.
We will continue to cover this important topic as new information is released – stay tuned!