Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

City, county officials discuss practicality of possible prohibition

August 22, 2002


When cherry bombs are outlawed, only outlaws will have cherry bombs.

That's the crux of the argument against a fireworks ban in Lawrence: Some people will shoot off fireworks regardless of the rules, opponents say, meaning a ban will punish only law-abiding citizens who now use fireworks safely and responsibly.

"A majority of people will obey the law," Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson said Wednesday during a joint meeting with the Lawrence City Commission. "I'm extremely reluctant to put another ordinance on the books I don't think we'll be able to enforce."

But advocates said a total ban would be easier to enforce than half-measures  police wouldn't get stuck figuring out which fireworks were allowed and which weren't  and would reduce the likelihood of fireworks-related injuries around the Fourth of July.

"I don't want to risk any of these guys' lives for this," Mayor Sue Hack said, referring to firefighters sitting next to her at the meeting.

Right now, the city allows fireworks' use during selected hours three days a year, July 2-4. Sales inside city limits are prohibited, but they flourish in the unincorporated parts of Douglas County, and city residents can store their own fireworks if done in accordance with safety codes.

After a devastating fireworks-related apartment fire in 2001, though, city commissioners began to consider a possible ban. They said Wednesday they wanted to make a final decision within a month, before fireworks vendors begin to order their inventory for next year's holiday.

One option raised last month by City Commissioner Marty Kennedy, a citywide referendum on the issue, is unlikely. Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said state law didn't allow city commissions to initiate referendums on regular city ordinances; a private citizen could do so with a petition containing the signatures of more than 2,000 registered voters.

City officials have long said a successful ban would depend on the county commission's willingness to prohibit fireworks sales outside city limits.

That seemed unlikely Wednesday; County Commission Chairman Jere McElhaney noted bottle rockets were already illegal in Kansas, yet many are bought in Missouri (where they're legal) and brought back to Lawrence for ignition.

"It'd be hard for the city and county to enforce what's bought elsewhere," he said.

City Commissioner David Dunfield, however, called a ban inevitable.

"As the city continues to grow, the problems are going to escalate," he said. "We're going to hear about this year after year until something dramatic changes."

Hack said she and McElhaney would meet with fireworks vendors in coming weeks to seek alternative solutions.

Kennedy, who won't run for re-election in next spring's city commission race, said he wanted the question resolved before it became a campaign issue.

"They'll say you shouldn't vote for someone because of their stance on fireworks," he said. "It's ridiculous."

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