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Tax and educate; Bill would allow fireworks sales.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

WINCHENDON - State Rep. Richard M. Bastien, R-Gardner, is proposing legislation to legalize fireworks in Massachusetts.

At a press conference yesterday on Route 202 - about 40 feet from the Atlas Fireworks Factory, south of the town and state lines to Rindge, N.H. - Mr. Bastien said the bill he has sponsored would allow towns on the border,

such as Winchendon, to compete for sales with New Hampshire where fireworks are legal.

That would make sense to Rindge resident Stephen P. Mantha who doesn't understand why sales are legal in some states and not in others.

``Using fireworks is just like anything else,'' Mr. Mantha said yesterday.

"People need to be responsible, follow safety rules and use them appropriately. I like what they do in our town - you have to get a permit and set them off at certain times," he said. "I love New Hampshire, but I grew up in Central Massachusetts in Rutland."

His son lives in Charlton.

Mr. Mantha said he agrees with Mr. Bastien's proposal to make the sale and use of fireworks legal in Massachusetts.

"If it is legal, they can regulate it," he said.

Within a few hours yesterday, dozens of people had shopping carts packed with fireworks at Atlas, and loaded them into cars with Massachusetts license plates in preparation for the July Fourth holiday.

A Winchendon resident who loaded his vehicle said he always thought it should be legal in Massachusetts - at least around this time of year.

"Allow it just around the Fourth and then tax it to the max," the man said; he refused to give his name.

"It's a source of revenue. Do you know how many people buy fireworks? That's a lot of money."

Massachusetts is one of only four states that ban all forms of fireworks. The others are New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

Mr. Bastien likened Massachusetts to the Wild West regarding residents' use of fireworks - any time and anywhere they want, he says - and said his proposal will make things safer while bringing in state revenue and creating jobs.

Mr. Bastien said the measure will also help cash in on revenue from liquor, lottery and other sales.

"My number one concern has always been advocating for jobs for the citizens of the commonwealth," he said. "Just last month our state lost 4,000 jobs. The unemployment rate on this side of the border is 10.6 percent while across (the New Hampshire state) line it is 4.8 percent. We need to get people back to work, and explore every avenue that does so."

The proposal would create a local option for cities and towns to decide whether to allow the sale of fireworks.

If the bill passes, Mr. Bastien said anyone using fireworks would have to apply for a permit with their local fire department so officials would know when and where fireworks are being used.

"Under my proposal, possessing fireworks in Massachusetts would no longer be against the law," he said. "A person desiring to use them responsibly would be able to apply for a permit from their local fire chief, similar to the brush-burning permit process that exists today."

According to the proposal, the state would collect a 5 percent safety fee on the sale of fireworks that would pay for fire safety programs, he said, and also collect sales tax.

"We can no longer look the other way and pretend our existing ban works," he said.

Patrick T. Carlon, director of development for Phantom Fireworks, headquartered in Ohio with three stores in New Hampshire, attended the press conference with Mr. Bastien. Both men said as fireworks sales increase nationally, related injuries decrease because of more education and training.

"As sales have doubled (across the country), injuries have decreased 30 percent," said Mr. Carlon.

Mr. Carlon compared Massachusetts to Indiana, which has about the same population, where a similar bill recently passed. Fireworks sales totaled $40 million last year, bringing in $2 million in safety fees for municipalities and additional state revenue through sales tax, he said.

"Consumer fireworks were never safer than they are today," said Mr. Carlon.

"With anything you do in life there is an inherent risk," Mr. Bastien added.

The Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, which opposes the measure, said legalizing fireworks could increase injuries and strain fire departments' resources.

The manager and owner of Atlas Fireworks Factory declined to comment.


CUTLINE: (PHOTO) State Rep. Richard Bastien speaks yesterday in Winchendon. The Gardner Republican is sponsoring a bill that would allow cities and towns to allow the sale of fireworks. (MAP) U.S. fireworks laws

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Jun 30, 2011
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