The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 22, 2012

Engineer keeps up his fight for legal fireworks

CHARLESTON — Expect a few fireworks in Monday’s start of the July interims session.

On the agenda at Judiciary Subcommittee B is the latest in a series of failed efforts to put West Virginia in a national trend of states legalizing fireworks.

Retired chemical engineer Cliff Rotz, one of the leading proponents, anticipates much of the same arguments in opposition, namely that fireworks are risky in the hands of non-professionals and could cause fires.

“One of the things that is interesting is there is at least anecdotal evidence that injury rates frequently go down in states in which fireworks are legalized,” he said.

“I think the reason for that is the good, safe, legal fireworks kind of forces out the illegal fireworks like cherry bombs and M-80s. Therefore, there are safer things available for the public when fireworks are made legal.”

If he can’t succeed in the injury department, Rotz is prepared to appeal to legislators on a matter that touches all of them, at one time or another: money.

“There is a lot of feeling among the populace that we’re losing a great deal of revenue in tax money to Ohio and Kentucky just in legalized fireworks,” he says.

“Ohio has been able to sell to West Virginians for many years, even though they can’t sell to their own residents. People definitely do get their fireworks, whether they’re going out of state or whether they’re able to buy them legally in their own state.”

Which raises another point for the pro-fireworks forces. And that is simply that West Virginians buy and detonate the illegal ones now anyway, especially on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

There is hardly a neighborhood anywhere in the state where the night skies on those holidays aren’t encumbered with the loud noises and colorful streaks.

Such a bill was authored last winter by House Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, and exited his committee but ultimately died in the judiciary panel. Among co-sponsors were Delegates Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette; Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; and Rick Snuffer, R-Raleigh.

“I think that’s our starting point,” Rotz said of failed HB4102.

When he appears before the subcommittee, Rotz intends to tell members that other states recently have legalized fireworks.

“They are legalizing them at an ever-increasing rate,” he said. “There definitely is a trend. Maine, Kentucky and Michigan just legalized fireworks in this past year.”

If enacted and ultimately approved by the governor, such a new law would allow five specific varieties of fireworks: rockets, Roman candles, shells, firecrackers and cakes.

A special 10 percent safety fee would be imposed on each sale, and proceeds likely would be divided between the fire marshal’s office and volunteer fire departments, although the split is undecided.

Rotz owns degrees in chemistry and physics from the University of Minnesota and is a certified pyrotechnics operator in West Virginia. He undertook master’s course work at Iowa State University. His first efforts to legalize the more potent fireworks came in the 2007-2009 sessions with former Sens. Shirley Love, D-Fayette, and Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, and current Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone.

“I have loved fireworks since I was a kid growing up in rural Minnesota,” says the retired Dow Chemical engineer.

“I’ve been a member of various fireworks associations up to 42 years. It’s been kind of an avocation.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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