Pa. fireworks law causes tensions to flare between states

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:58

    Pike County -Fourth of July revelers looking for a blast can find a fireworks mecca here. But there is a catch: You can buy the tantalizing rockets, Roman candles and other big-boom gizmos only if you don’t live in Pennsylvania. A November 2004 change in the state fireworks law in effect has encouraged fireworks distributors to open shops in border towns and sell to out-of-state residents. ``It’s a joke — and it’s a slap in the face to the border states,’’ Josh Weinstein, a member of a neighborhood group formed to fight the proliferation of stores in Williams Township, told The Philadelphia Inquirer for Sunday’s editions. The twist in the law has caused a flap in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared ``zero tolerance’’ for illegal fireworks. A task force of New York police officers has been staking out Pennsylvania stores and making arrests. And the mayors of Morrisville and Trenton are among a number of New Jersey officials incensed by the change in the law. It is legal for Pennsylvanians to purchase sparklers, toy caps and other novelties that have long been sold from seasonal roadside tents. But Pennsylvanians may buy consumer-grade fireworks only if they can get a permit from the municipality where the display will take place. An amendment in late 2004 allows licensed distributors to sell the more potent consumer-grade fireworks to out-of-state residents _ including to New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, even though they may not legally possess them in their states. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which regulates fireworks, said about 35 stores have opened since the law changed, especially in areas close to New Jersey and New York. Kent Shelhamer, who oversees Pennsylvania’s fireworks regulation, said it is an example of consumers looking for the best deals. Pennsylvanians, he said, have long gone out of state for liquor, and New Yorkers often head to Pennsylvania stores for clothing that is not taxed. ``When they’re selling here in Pennsylvania, it’s a completely legal act,’’ said Shelhamer. The fireworks merchants, meanwhile, seem weary of the fuss. They say they are licensed and that their products are safer now than ever before. ``I think that New York is out of line,’’ said Bill Weimer, an executive with Phantom Fireworks in Ohio, which has a store in Williams Township, Pa. There are more pressing matters for government officials ``than chasing Americans that are simply celebrating freedom,’’ Weimer said.