Easing Oahu’s fireworks law faces uphill battle

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Jan 29 2014 05:45:00 PM HST

You might not be able to add any extra "spark" or "glow" to your New Years or the 4th of July. A proposal to scale back Honolulu's fireworks ban looks like it could fizzle out.

HONOLULU -

A move to walk back Oahu’s fireworks ban was met by opposition Wednesday by members of the public and three members of the City Council.

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Bill 5 would allow county residents to purchase up to 160 fountains or sparklers after obtaining a $25 permit. Under current law, consumers can purchase up to 5,000 red paper firecrackers after obtaining such a permit.

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Honolulu resident David Takahashi said any councilmember who supports scaling back the current fireworks ban could face repercussions.

"If you folks pass this bill, you folks are marked... you folks not going to get elected," he said.  

Assistant Fire Chief Socrates Bratakos went a step further, saying the fire department wants to also outlaw firecrackers.

"The HFD position has been and will continue to be advocating for the total ban of fireworks," he said.

The controversial bill is being spearheaded by councilmembers Ikaika Anderson and Ann Kobayashi, who note the use of fireworks dropped dramatically after Honolulu’s ban took effect Jan. 2, 2011.

"We are looking for a fair compromise here by also providing the requirement of a valid permit," Anderson told KITV4.

"So, we're just kind of giving a little more option to the use of firecrackers," added Kobayashi.

Although Bill 5 passed first reading, councilmembers Stanley Chang and Ron Menor had strong reservations. Councilman Breene Harimoto voted no, which is unusual for a bill’s initial hearing.

"When someone's fun and someone's celebration causes fires, injuries and even life-threatening breathing problems for those with respiratory conditions, I think that's where you draw the line," said Harimoto.   

There was testimony in support of making fountains and sparklers legal again. Red Hill resident Willie Holly accused the Council of turning Oahu into a nanny state, noting the many restrictions at city parks.

"Are you going to legislate us into deathly silence,” he asked. “Please, let us have some kind of fun."

In 2013, the Honolulu Fire Department issued 10,922 firecracker permits for New Year’s Eve, a 27 percent jump from the 8,564 permits issued a year earlier.

Anderson and Kobayashi say the key to passing the bill could be public testimony.

“It’ll be an uphill battle, but I think it’s a good discussion that we have to have,” said Kobayashi.

The earliest the Public Safety Committee could hear the bill is Feb. 25. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga.

Meanwhile, Bill 5 would also allow a refund of firecracker permit fees to anyone who does not use their permits. This past New Year’s some residents complained they could not find any red paper firecrackers to purchase in stores.

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