Archive for Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fireworks to remain illegal in Shawnee

May 20, 2015

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— Fireworks will remain illegal in Shawnee until the city conducts a survey of residents in the fall to determine the public's opinion on the matter.

The City Council debated the issue Tuesday evening at a committee meeting after Council Member Mike Kemmling brought the issue to the table. Kemmling advocated for people to have the right to choose if they want to use fireworks and was the only council member to vote against keeping fireworks illegal.

"I believe in the freedom of the individual to choose what they want to responsibly do," Kemmling said.

The city's current ordinance regarding fireworks prohibits the possession, manufacture, storage, sale, handling and use of fireworks in the city. The city hasn't allowed fireworks since 1972.

Shawnee does allow sparklers and "snakes" unlike surrounding cities Merriam, Mission, and Overland Park. Lenexa allows sparklers and smoke bombs along with snappers and paper caps.

DeSoto and Spring Hill are the only Johnson County cities that allow the use and sale of what are considered Class C fireworks, which include any fireworks that uses combustion, burning or detonation. Kansas City, Kan., along with several cities in Missouri allow fireworks.

If legalized, the board agreed that the benefits could include potential sales tax revenue, an easing of the burden on law enforcement to enforce laws against fireworks, and would allow the fire department to educate the public on safe and responsible use of fireworks. The fire department can't do that now as they would be educating people on something illegal in the city.

The negatives of legalizing fireworks would include noise concerns, injuries, potential fires and the overall use of fireworks would increase from people being attracted to Shawnee from surrounding communities to shoot off their own fireworks.

The fire department and police department spoke to the issue of enforcing the ban on fireworks and also provided some statistics regarding safety in the city. The fire department said there have been five fires started in Shawnee since 2001 because of fireworks and since 2011, there have been 45 fireworks citations issue and 38 pounds of fireworks confiscated.

Deputy Chief Rob Moser said the current law is hard to enforce because while an officer might cite one individual, there are always three or four more just down the road that won't get cited.

"It's a challenge to enforce, but that doesn't mean we won't do it," Moser said.

Fire Chief John Mattox said the fire department wouldn't support the legalization of fireworks in the city.

Kemmling wanted to city to align its ordinance with the state fireworks law that allows for a fireworks season between June 27 and July 5 each year. State law says that any person wanting bottle rockets must complete a registration application through the state fire marshal's office. State law also says people cannot fire fireworks from a car or vehicle, on a public roadway or within 100-fet of a "place of institution" such as a church or school.

Kemmling argued that while fireworks have inherent dangers, so do other things like smoking cigarettes and daily activities like driving. He said people should have the right to choose to do those things, rather than have the government tell them otherwise.

"We use things all the time that have inherent risks," Kemmling said.

Council Member Jeff Vaught countered saying that not only do fireworks present a risk to the user, but they present a risk to the community. Vaught likened it to how the city banned smoking in restaurants and other businesses, saying that the city determined that smoking around others had a negative impact on their health and safety.

"You have a much bigger chance of injuring someone else that's an innocent bystander," Vaught said.

Council Member Jim Neighbor said he had spoken with 17 of his constituents and all but one were against legalizing fireworks. He said the city has to think about the population of veterans and how the increased noise from legalized fireworks could affect their post-traumatic stress disorder.

Council Member Eric Jenkins, a veteran, said that he understands the noise concerns but said he wishes the citizens of Shawnee had a way to celebrate Independence Day.

The city of Shawnee used to partner with Lenexa to put on the "Fire in the Sky" display over the Shawnee Mission Park Lake. That display began in 2001 and ended in 2008 due to budget restrictions. The city of Shawnee alone was paying $40,000 for the fireworks display.

"This is the Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our freedom," Jenkins said. "And here we are talking about how to restrain people's freedoms, I'm having trouble with that."

Ultimately, the council voted 7-1 in favor of keeping Shawnee's ordinance as is.

The city has budgeted for another citizens survey this fall, in which a random selection of residents will be able to weigh in as to whether they think fireworks should be legal. Once the results are in, the council agreed to look at the issue again and decide based on the residents' opinions.

The members of the public who attended Tuesday's meeting did not speak to the council about the issue.

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