Florida senate panel OKs legalizing fireworks, outlawing sunscreen bans
Sen. Travis Hutson thought he had a good read of his audience when he presented fellow lawmakers with a proposal to allow Floridians to buy fireworks legally.
Now, Floridians are allowed to buy them only through a decades-old loophole in state law, by signing a form agreeing to use fireworks "solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”
When asked to sum up his bill (SB 140), Hutson simply asked a key legislative committee to help him “rocket this to the Senate floor.”
Despite that groaner, the Senate Rules Committee approved the measure for consideration by the whole chamber on a unanimous vote. A House companion bill is one committee stop from floor debate in that chamber.
Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, agreed to shepherd what has become a perennial bill at the Legislature since at least 2013 — a repeal of a ban on consumers purchasing fireworks to mark celebrations and holidays.
“I don’t think we should penalize Floridians for celebrating American traditions,” Hutson said after the vote.
The bill would allow the sale of fireworks to illuminate the sky on Independence Day, just as John Adams told Abigail Adams they would do after the Founding Fathers voted to create a new nation.
A companion measure has been filed in the House by Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral.
Unlike previous versions, however, Hutson’s proposal is limited to just two holidays: Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.
In the Sunshine State, one does not buy bottle rockets and Roman Candles for a party, one purchases them to scare birds away from crops. Or at least that’s what consumers tell fireworks dealers.
Recreational use of fireworks are illegal in Florida, except for agricultural purposes, to mark a railroad crossing, and quarrying.
But a 2002 court ruling blew open yet another hole in state law. It found there’s no requirement for a fireworks dealer to determine if the buyer is telling the truth when they check a box on a form that they intend to use fireworks for legal purposes.
In debate, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg calls the ban “a farce,” and “ridiculous,” and one of the “craziest, strangest laws on the books.”
“It’s almost a running joke," Brandes said. "We prohibit fireworks, but you can still get access, but you have to commit fraud to do it.
“Let’s just be honest and not require people to commit fraud to purchase fireworks.”
Brandes tried to repeal the nearly 70-year-old ban in 2013 and 2014. Three years later, he backed a proposal by former state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
When Steube moved onto Congress, Tampa GOP Rep. James Grant also tried to allow consumers to legally purchase fireworks. None of that legislation passed.
In other business, the Rules Committee approved a measure by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that would prohibit local governments from banning sunscreens that contain chemicals believed to be harmful to corals and reefs.
“We are the Sunshine State and a lot of people stay outside, and we should be encouraging people to use sunscreen, not discourage it,” Bradley said.
Bradley sparred with environmentalists over whether swimmers' use of sunscreen that contains oxybenzone and octinoxate is a threat to coral. He points to a legislative study that concluded the chemicals do have a negative effect on marine life when exposed to “concentration levels generally not observed in nature.”
His opponents argued there is a scientific consensus that the chemicals do have a negative impact on reefs. They point to bans recently imposed by Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean.
While the Florida League of Cities asked the panel to hold off on preempting local ordinances pending further research, it still voted 12-4 to send the measure to the floor for debate and a final vote.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.