With Sarasota County ordinance amended, fireworks become legal on three holidays

Commissioner Ziegler called for the change on the basis of new state law

Fireworks explode over Siesta Key Public Beach on July Fourth in 2012. This year, because of concerns about the novel coronavirus, most July Fourth fireworks displays were cancelled in the county. Photo contributed by Peter van Roekens

No members of the public were present to address the issue, so the Sarasota County Commission on Nov. 18 eschewed a presentation on an amendment to the county’s fireworks regulations.

The vote on the motion to adjust the county’s ordinance to conform to a new state law passed unanimously, after Commissioner Christian Ziegler made it and Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded it.

Ziegler was the board member who brought up the proposal in July, having learned from County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht that the county ordinance made it illegal to set off fireworks.

A new law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed on April 8 permits individuals over the age of 18 to legally set off fireworks on three days: July Fourth, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, Ziegler noted during the July 7 discussion, that law did not supersede local government regulations.

“I appreciate staff putting this together,” Ziegler said on Nov. 18.

“This is an issue that’s gone on for decades,” Detert added. Members of the public used to have to sign forms before purchasing fireworks that acknowledged they would set off the pyrotechnics only for agricultural purposes, she pointed out. “We used to call it the ‘Liars Act,’” she said, referring to her years in the Florida Legislature. “So it’s nice that people don’t have to lie anymore for certain occasions. … Good for the Legislature.”

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to communicate this out to the public,” Ziegler said of the revised county regulations. “There are people that just didn’t know they weren’t allowed [to shoot off fireworks],” he continued.

“I don’t know how anyone can not like fireworks,” he added, “but those that don’t, maybe it’ll push it more to the legal windows that are allowed.”
Moreover, Ziegler said, “It’s a little crazy to have stuff that’s criminalized that isn’t enforced, which is what was going on with this.”

On a number of occasions, prior to the July Fourth holiday, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office personnel explained to members of the Siesta Key Association that they had to observe someone in the act of setting off fireworks to be able to cite the person for violating the county law.

Deputies also used to confiscate fireworks they saw with people on Siesta Public Beach before nightfall on July Fourth.

The new language in the Florida Statutes is in Section 791.08. The amended county ordinance is 2020-058, which references the revised state law.

During an earlier discussion of his proposal, Ziegler did suggest that perhaps a time frame should be included in the county amendment, so people who have to work the day after Jan. 1, for example, would not be disturbed by fireworks exploding well into the wee hours of the morning of Jan. 2. However, such language was not incorporated into the measure the board approved on Nov. 18.

The state law also does not provide a specific time frame when fireworks can be launched on the three holidays.