Fireworks use could be controlled under city noise ordinances in a bill that passed the General Assembly today and awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
House Bill 419’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), said the bill’s Senate version had some compromises, but achieves its main goal: to “give local control back to city and county officials.”
The restriction has been desired by many local officials since the state controversially legalized the sale and use of fireworks in 2015 with few limits on their use, regardless of the noise and fire safety differences between rural, urban and suburban areas.
Local cities have reported a torrent of fireworks noise complaints since then, with police powerless to act. Silcox said she received many complaints about effects on dogs and sleeping children. In December, the Sandy Springs City Council issued a resolution urging the Senate to pass the bill, citing effects on pets and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, among other issues.
Current law generally allows fireworks use during the day and early evening. House Bill 419 would generally allow fireworks between 10 a.m. and midnight – but also allows cities or counties to apply any existing noise ordinance during those hours. That empowers local governments to cut back the hours or ban the use.
The bill includes exemptions and extended fireworks use hours on several holidays: Jan. 1; Memorial Day in May; July 3 and 4; Labor Day in September; and Dec. 31. If Deal signs the bill, it would take effect July 1, “just in the time for the holiday,” Silcox said.
The bill allows the governor to ban fireworks outright in any area under an official drought declaration, which creates extra fire hazards.
It also requires fireworks sellers to post a sign cautioning buyers to read safety rules and local ordinances, and to show some good Southern manners. “Please be a good neighbor and be mindful that unannounced ignition near some military veterans and other persons and near some pets can be traumatic,” says the required language.
Among the House co-sponsors was state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), and the Senate sponsor was Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta), whose District 56 includes part of Sandy Springs. According to the Senate Press Office, the bill passed the Senate in a 47-4 vote March 21.
Local cities have been concerned this session about several bills that could remove or reduce local controls on such issues as short-term home rentals, wood-frame apartment construction and wireless antenna installation. Most of the disputes involve competing interests between rural and urban constituencies.
Fireworks use is another such issue, but Silcox said she “threaded the needle” by hanging the local control on noise ordinances. Many rural jurisdictions don’t have noise ordinances and thus would not see any use restrictions, she said.