Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As Conservation Group Warns Against Fireworks Use, Lawmaker Considers Repealing ‘Goofy’ Law

Dick Daniels
Wikimedia Commons
Black skimmers are short, black-and-white seabirds with bright orange bills. Audubon Florida worries repealing Florida's fireworks law could be detrimental to the species.

Florida State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, doesn’t mince words about Florida’s fireworks rules.

“Florida has the goofiest laws in the nation when it comes to regulation of fireworks,” he said.

Almost any firework not shot off from a permitted area has been illegal in Florida since the 1940s. If it explodes or it flies, then technically you shouldn’t have it at your barbecue.

Unless you’re a city with a permit or a farmer looking to scare away crop-eating birds, you actually don’t have a right to see the rockets’ red glare. The kind of “fireworks” used by farmers trying to prevent crop destruction is a far cry from what you use for entertainment, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

What was once a small exemption became a massive loophole when a court in 1999 ruled fireworks sellers can’t be held accountable for what buyers do with them. The fireworkers sellers  just have to get buyers to sign a promise they understand the law.

“I think that it’s wrong to have a statutory scheme set up that basically encourages individuals to sign documents where they’re not telling the truth and our current state of the law, I think, ignores reality, which is Floridians enjoy fireworks on the 4th of July,” he said.

Still, bird conservation group Audubon Florida is concerned simply repealing the law could be detrimental to sensitive avian species along the state’s coasts. Audubon director Julie Wraithmell said that’s especially true in Northeast Florida where one previously declining species is making a bit of a comeback.

Black skimmers are short, black-and-white seabirds with bright orange bills. They zip close to the water, using their extended lower beaks to “skim” the water for fish.

Although not on the national endangered species list, they are threatened or endangered in a few states. And in Florida they’re what’s called a species of special concern.  Wraithmell warned that, even though the fireworks law currently on the books isn’t uniformly enforced, it’s still better than the free-for-all of a repeal.

“We think that, that fireworks law is important. These birds and other wildlife are affected by impromptu fireworks and there are formal displays that are available for people to attend. They do harm when they are used improperly and in the wrong locations,” she said.

But Bradley, who’s received Audubon’s Champion of the Everglades Award for legislation funding for diverting nutrient-rich water south from Lake Okeechobee, said his plans are still in the early stages of exploration.

Bradley said he’d like to get with environmental and safety experts, as well as his fellow legislators, to hammer out a possible repeal and reform that addressed both the environment and civil liberty aspects of the law.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.