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Frustration over governor's veto of bill to expand Minnesota's fireworks laws

BROOTEN -- Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of a bill that would have legalized consumer fireworks in Minnesota both "disappointed" and "frustrated" one of the prime advocates for the change.

"It's politics at its best or worse, depending on how you look at it,'' said Garry Hanson, owner of Precocious Pyrotechnics and Glacial Ridge Fireworks in rural Bro-oten.

Precocious Pyrotechnics is one of the country's largest producers of display fireworks. Glacial Ridge Fireworks is a large wholesale distributor of consumer fireworks. Hanson said his company sells to retailers in the Dakotas and Wisconsin the fireworks that Minnesota consumers illegally bring back to the state.

By not allowing legal sale here, Minnesota is losing anywhere from $95 million to $115 million a year in sales and taxes, he said. The revenue represents 500 to 700 full- and part-time jobs.

Hanson said most states now allow consumer fireworks, and their use is growing across the country every year.

Yet the rate of accidents compared to usage is declining, he said.

He's not so sure Minnesotans are any safer as a result of the veto. It means Minnesotans will only continue to use fireworks on the sly, increasing the likelihood for their misuse.

"It's just a sad situation,'' Hanson said.

He said supporters of the legislation believed Dayton was going to allow the bill to become law. Hanson made 10 different trips to the capitol to testify as the bill made its way through the House and Senate this session.

The governor cited concerns about safety in his decision to veto the bill Saturday evening. Hanson said the governor had received letters and pleas from fire marshals and physicians Wednesday urging him to veto the bill.

Groups ranging from the Society for the Prevention of Blindness to the state fire marshals pointed out the dangers of lost eyes and fingers, severe burns, and house fires associated with the misuse of fireworks.

Hanson said the biggest cause of injuries, representing about 60 percent of the total, are burns from sparklers. Sparklers are classified not as fireworks but as novelties and remain legal in Minnesota

There were no deaths associated with fireworks in the U.S. in the last three years, and roughly 3,000 accidents in that period, according to Hanson.

Asked while testifying at the capitol if $100 million in new revenue is worth one child being injured fireworks, Hanson said he responded: "If that is your attitude we should make bicycling illegal.''

He said the U.S. recorded 1,000 deaths and 750,000 accidents in the last year associated with bicycling.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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