By Joe Barnas
Illinois Policy Institute
SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois representative wants to would bring consumer fireworks back onto retail shelves for the first time in more than 75 years.
The latest attempt to repeal Illinois’ fireworks ban by a state lawmaker came on the eve of Independence Day. House Bill 5928, filed July 3 by state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, would ease the state’s restrictions on fireworks, which rank among the strictest in the nation.
The Pyrotechnic Use Act, which has been on the books since 1942, prohibits the sale, purchase and use of nearly all consumer fireworks in Illinois. HB 5928 would repeal this ban, replacing it with a regulatory framework under which retailers could lawfully sell items such as bottle rockets and roman candles. Illinois is one of only four states in the nation to ban the purchase and use of nearly all consumer fireworks.
Wheeler’s proposal would set three requirements for users of consumer fireworks: One would have to be at least 18 years of age to purchase fireworks; the use of fireworks would be prohibited within 200 feet of any structure, vehicle or person; and users of fireworks would be required to obey any local ordinances concerning the use or possession of consumer fireworks.
Seasonal retailers as well as permanent businesses at which the sale of fireworks is not the primary source of business would register with the state fire marshal, according to the bill, and pay a fee of up to $250 annually. For retailers whose primary source of business is the sale of fireworks, an annual fee of up to $500 would be required upon registration.
Moreover, HB 5928 would give Illinois the opportunity to spur investment from an industry that has thrived in neighboring states. This proposal would open the door to tax revenue that has for too long been kept outside Illinois’ borders. Iowa, for instance, legalized fireworks in 2017 and anticipates an estimated $1.5 million in tax revenue. Despite some restrictive local ordinances, between 700 and 800 legal fireworks vendors conduct business across the Hawkeye State. Indiana, meanwhile, has enjoyed $2.5 million annually in tax revenue from the lawful sale of fireworks.
In Illinois, however, Independence Day saw the state’s ban once again enforced unevenly and ineffectively. Peoria went the stricter route, dedicating nearly an entire shift’s worth of officers to enforce the ban. The officers dished out nearly 120 citations over the holiday weekend, according to the Peoria Journal Star, amounting to roughly $30,000 in fines. Last year, Peoria officers handed out a mere eight citations for fireworks use. Aurora has been known to take a similarly vigilant approach, while the Chicago suburb of Riverside, on the other hand, has typically seen a more relaxed and permissive policy toward small fireworks displays.
Repealing the Land of Lincoln’s archaic fireworks ban would be a small but welcome step toward rekindling the state’s lackluster economy and reducing the paternalistic tendencies that make Illinois a national outlier.