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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ind. Law - "Fireworks lobby ensures nightly barrage in Indiana neighborhoods despite noise, danger"

That is the headline to Matthew Tully's long story today on the power of the fireworks lobby in Indiana. Some quotes:

“They have a very powerful lobby in the state,” said Tracy Boatwright, a former state fire marshal. “They have a lot of money that they pass out to a lot of different legislators and they are very effective.”

Boatwright spent years battling the industry, trying to limit the amount and type of fireworks that could be sold and discharged in the state. He fought the industry in court and in the Statehouse hallways. His message was always the same: It’s simply not safe to turn neighborhoods into free-fire zones. He argued that there was nothing positive to come from allowing amateurs to shoot fireworks high into the air, calling that a recipe for tragedy.

His message was drowned out by the industry and an electorate that includes many people who just love to blow things up.

“Hoosiers think it’s their God-given right to get drunk and shoot bottle rockets at each other,” Boatwright said. “That’s what makes this so hard. But it’s not a good law. It’s dangerous.”

The Indiana State Department of Health produces an annual report on fireworks-related injuries that is worth reading. In it you’ll find that in the past five years an average of 123 injuries a year have been reported to the Health Department, with more than a third of them harming children. (The number was down significantly in 2012 because of local fireworks bans that came with the state’s severe drought.) “Of reported injuries in 2012,” the report states, “there was one amputation of an individual’s leg and one death.”

If you think that 123 injuries a year doesn’t sound so bad, consider this: While state law requires hospitals and other medical facilities to report all fireworks-related injuries, the Department of Health report notes that the law “is not actively enforced and the number of injury reports received is an underestimation of the true burden of fireworks injuries.”

Almost all of the reported injuries involved people who were setting off fireworks. Boatwright says Indiana will stubbornly keeps its lax laws until an innocent bystander — “a beautiful little girl,” he said — is the victim of a house fire or other tragedy.

“Is that what it’s going to take before you people realize how dangerous these fireworks are?” he recalls asking lawmakers.

They didn’t listen. They listened instead to the industry, its campaign cash and its lobbyists, some of them former lawmakers. And the industry has been well represented inside the legislative chambers: State Rep. Eric Turner was the longtime owner of a fireworks business and is now a lobbyist for the industry in other states. His House colleague, Rep. Bob Morris, lists himself as the owner of Best Bang Fireworks.

Neither Turner nor Morris returned my phone calls.

But John Brooke did. He’s a top lawyer for and a fierce defender of the industry. He points to the taxes generated, jobs created and notes that Indiana sells more fireworks each year than all but a handful of much larger states. The current law, he said, simply expresses the wishes of the majority.

“It doesn’t do anything that Hoosiers weren’t doing before,” he said. “They have always loved fireworks. There’s a reason we have such a strong business here — because Hoosiers love fireworks. The law should respect what the majority wants.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 30, 2013 07:24 PM
Posted to Indiana Law