Bill approved in Legislature this year, signed by governor, allows individuals legally to shoot off fireworks on July Fourth, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve
In early May, as he and his colleagues were contending with the ramifications of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler indicated a strong desire to see traditional community fireworks displays proceed on July Fourth.
Ultimately, most were cancelled, out of sponsors’ concerns that they could not ensure spectators would be able to take the necessary precautions to prevent new transmissions of COVID-19.
Then, on July 7, during his board’s final meeting before it took its annual summer break, Ziegler again brought up fireworks. As a result of that discussion, the commission late this summer potentially could amend a longstanding county regulation prohibiting individuals from setting off fireworks. The goal, as Ziegler proposed it, would be to bring the County Code in line with a bill the Florida Legislature approved this year, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed.
On July 7, during his report to the commission, Ziegler talked about having gone up on the roof of his house to watch fireworks people were setting off all around him on July Fourth. “I’ve never seen such a display throughout our community.”
Then he noted that he had forgotten about discussion during the legislative session regarding a bill that would allow individuals to shoot off fireworks legally on three days: July Fourth, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Although the bill became law, he added, “It does not supersede local governments’ [regulations].”
He thanked County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht for talking with him over the previous weekend about the situation.
Section 58-4(d)(1) of the County Code of Ordinances says, “[I]t shall be unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, or corporation to … explode any fireworks within the County.” The regulation does provide for exemptions in regard to agricultural uses.
Representatives of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office have explained that, essentially, in regard to fireworks, “If it flies, it is illegal” in the unincorporated areas of the county, unless a person has obtained a permit for use of fireworks. Sparklers, on the other hand, are allowed.
“I just wanted to see where the board stood on this,” Ziegler continued. “I think it makes sense to follow the state’s lead on this.” Perhaps, though, he said, the commission could include in its amendment a time limit on private fireworks displays — 1 a.m., for example — as people would be inclined to celebrate New Year’s just after midnight.
“I don’t think anyone’s really following the [county] ordinance as it’s written now,” Ziegler pointed out.
When she was a member of the Legislature, Commissioner Nancy Detert responded, she tried to get just the type of bill approved that the governor signed this year. “I called it the ‘anti-lying’ bill,” she added, as individuals purchasing fireworks have had to sign a form attesting that they would use the incendiary devices for farm purposes — to scare off birds, for example. “Who are we kidding with this?” was her position on the situation, Detert said.
She was agreeable to having staff research a potential amendment to the county ordinance, she added. “I’m for bringing it in line with state law,” at the very least, she said, for July Fourth celebrations. People expect to be able to shoot off pyrotechnics that day, Detert noted.
However, she stressed, if the board amends the county regulations, it needs to incorporate safety measures; for example, if drought conditions are in effect, that should be taken into account.
Ziegler told her the ordinance does include such a provision.
Commissioner Charles Hines also endorsed the idea of having staff research the issue.
Ziegler then made a motion calling for that step, and Hines seconded it. The commission could discuss how to proceed after getting the report, Ziegler said.
Details of the report
The resulting staff report was completed on July 30, according to a copy The Sarasota News Leader obtained through a public records request.
The county’s regulations regarding the use of fireworks were adopted in an emergency ordinance, No. 99-301, and have been amended several times, the report says. The last action took place on May 25, 2005, the report adds. The ordinance permits the county to facilitate the enforcement of Chapter 791 of the Florida Statutes in regard to use of fireworks, the report points out.
Finally, staff recommends that the commission amend the county ordinance by including in it language not only in reference to Section 791.08 of the Florida Statutes — which encompasses the new law — but also in regard to a separate section of the statutes, which deals with the sale and use of fireworks.
That second section applies to Chapter 791.07 of the statutes, which governs fireworks to be used “exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.” The part referenced in the staff report notes, “Section 10(5), [Chapter] 2007-67, provides that “[p]ending completion of the Legislature’s review of [a state] task force’s report and to ensure that fire prevention and safety standards are uniform, a new permanent retail sales facility engaged in sales otherwise permitted under [Section] 791.07, Florida Statutes, may not be opened in this state after March 8, 2007, unless the permanent retail sales facility has received site-plan approval and construction has begun on or before March 8, 2007; the number of permits for temporary retail sales facilities, such as tents, engaged in sales otherwise permitted by [Section] 791.07, Florida Statutes, which are issued after March 8, 2007, by a county, municipality, or other unit of local government may not exceed the number of permits that such governmental entity issued for such facilities during the previous calendar year; and a municipality, county, or other unit of local government may not adopt an ordinance, rule, regulation, or other law after March 8, 2007, which directly prohibits or directly interferes with the safety standards established by state law or the right to purchase, sell, use, or possess consumer fireworks in this state.”
“Should the Board wish to amend [the county ordinance],” the county report adds, “staff will seek legal services from the Sarasota County Office of the County Attorney to prepare an amendment to the ordinance and return to the Board in September.”
Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, signed off on the report before forwarding it to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, who sent it on to the commission.