The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 24, 2013

Fireworks legalization fizzles again

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

Charleston — A seventh effort to legalize “energetic” fireworks in West Virginia flamed out like a wet fuse, but the chief lobbyist isn’t ready to put away his matches.

Retired chemical engineer Clifford Rotz saw his bill gain the nod of the House Government Organization Committee in this session, only to die in the final hours in the judiciary committee.

After seven years of trying to let West Virginians legally buy and set off firecrackers, Roman candles, rockets, mines, shells and multi-shot items, known in the trade as “cakes,” Rotz hasn’t decided about whether to try again.

“I’m not certain,” the Dunbar resident said Tuesday. “They’re wearing me down.

“I was very optimistic. But I think it was a matter of running out of time.”

Rotz said he doesn’t hold any grudges against House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who pulled his bill off the agenda in the crush of legislation that typically occurs in the final days of a session.

“He has to make a call regarding what he has time to go through in a given session,” Rotz said.

“And I think the way it was, he probably covered two or three dozen bills in the last couple of days, which is an enormous effort, anyway.”

Three years ago, similar legislation cleared the Senate on a 33-1 vote.

“And I think the House would vote very largely in favor of it also, if it made it to the House floor,” he said.

Rotz attributed the demise of his bill this year to some eleventh-hour opposition mounted by volunteer fire departments and the state fire marshal’s office, presumably on grounds of public safety.

Despite the common fears voiced by such elements, Rotz feels the statistics on fireworks-related injuries are on his side.

National figures show that fireworks-caused fires are falling significantly at the same time that the devices have been substantially legalized, he pointed out.

In this millennium, a dozen states have liberalized fireworks laws, but since 1976, the injuries compared with pounds exploded have dwindled. In 1976, says the American Pyrotechnics Association, there were 11,100 injuries with the consumption of 29 million pounds of fireworks, or 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds.

Three years ago, Americans set off 205.9 million pounds of fireworks with 8,600 injuries, or 4.1 per 100,000 pounds.

“When fireworks are legal, people choose to shoot them off safely on their own property, rather than in a rush, perhaps on someone else’s or public property, and they follow safety precautions, follow the directions properly, and have garden hoses available to put out any little fire that could happen,” Rotz said.

Rotz said the state is missing the boat on some tax dollars by keeping fireworks illegal.

“There is, I feel, a significant amount of money being lost in taxes, plus you’re criminalizing an activity that people want to engage in, thereby distracting valuable police time from the really bad criminal activity,” he said.

Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, the lead sponsor in the Senate, plans to renew his effort to legalize fireworks in next year’s session.

“It’s going to take some work,” Hall said.

“Some in the leadership are not too keen on the idea.”

— E-mail: