IN FOCUS Discussion: The debate on banning fireworks

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to the weekly drought update from the Utah Department of Natural Resources, 21 of our state’s 42 largest reservoirs are below 55% water capacity. Utah Fire Info‘s website shows there’s been 432 wildfires so far this year, 349 of which were human-caused. As our state faces severe drought and firefighters predicting 2021 could be one of the worst fire seasons on record, one question that’s emerged among the community and those in public office is, “Should Utah enact an all-out ban on fireworks this year?”

During his monthly news conference last Thursday, Governor Spencer Cox expressed strong support for a statewide ban on fireworks, but explained that he received counsel from his legal team that he does not have the authority to do so. He said, “I’ve told the legislature I think it’s a terrible idea not to have additional restrictions this year. They haven’t shown any interest in doing anything more around that, so we are relying on local governments to put those restrictions in place.”

State lawmakers, including Sen. Todd Weiler, encouraged Utahns to reach out to their local mayors and city council if they want fireworks banned in their community. Speaker Brad Wilson tweeted, “We have taken steps to empower local officials […] It is my hope that local leaders will determine what works best in their communities and that Utahns will act reasonable and responsibly as we celebrate Independence Day and Pioneer Day together.”

However, Utah House Democrats released a statement on Tuesday, calling for a special session to grant more local control over fireworks in their communities. Speaker Wilson said he does not believe it is necessary for the state legislature to do so at this time. Multiple officials from different municipalities including Sandy City Councilmember Zach Robinson said they are unable to enforce an all-out ban because of their limitations under state code.

However, an increasing number of cities have enforced fireworks ban including Salt Lake City, North Ogden, Eagle Mountain, Park City, Holladay, South Salt Lake, and now Ogden. This subject has been difficult for Utahns to understand, because they’re receiving conflicting information and don’t know where to turn to voice their concerns. Is it their city councilmember or their state representative? Do local municipalities have the legal authority to enact an all-out ban?

Robinson and Sen. Weiler of Woods Cross joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen for an IN FOCUS discussion about this subject. Sen. Weiler talked about why he encouraged Utahns to reach out to their mayors and city councils if they want fireworks banned in their community and why he doesn’t think it’s necessary for the state legislature to call a special session on this topic. Robinson explained why he disagreed with Sen. Weiler, why cities are unable to do an all-out ban on fireworks, his response to other cities enacting fireworks bans, and his thoughts about the state legislature deciding not to hold a special session.

See a compilation of Utah’s fireworks-related statutes in Utah here.

Utah State Fire Marshal Coy Porter broke down the fireworks-related statute that explains what local municipalities can enact under state code, what is considered “hazardous environmental conditions,” what his thoughts are on the cities that have implemented an all-out ban on fireworks, the difference between a “restriction” and a “ban,” and who Utahns should voice their concerns to if they want a complete ban in the area where they live.

Robert Gehrke, news columnist with the Salt Lake Tribune, discussed how he’s been interpreting and analyzing the subject of fireworks as it’s unfolded over the past few weeks, his thoughts on the state legislature deciding not to hold a special session, whether cities that have enacted all-out bans could face legal action, and why fireworks are such a contentious subject in our state.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Robinson, Sen. Weiler, Porter, and Gehrke, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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