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Iowa Senate bill would stop cities from restricting fireworks sales in commercial, industrial zones

By: - March 30, 2022 4:41 pm

The siting of fireworks stores and stands in commercial or industrial zones could not be restricted by local governments under a bill approved March 30, 2022, by the Iowa Senate. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa local governments would no longer be able to restrict the sale of fireworks in parts of their communities zoned for commercial or industrial use under a bill passed Wednesday by the Iowa Senate.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, offered the proposal as an amendment to Senate File 2285, which deals with local planning and zoning laws.  He said it would prevent local governments from doing “an end run” around Iowa’s law that legalizes fireworks sales.

The measure would eliminate discretion that local governments now have to keep fireworks sales out of locations within commercial or industrial zones. Opponents said the move would stop cities from restricting fireworks in locations that might border residential areas, for example, or other businesses that might pose a fire hazard.

The Legislature legalized the sale and use of fireworks in Iowa in 2017 and the law has been controversial ever since, especially in urban areas where some cities have banned the use of fireworks because of noise complaints and fire hazards.

Democrats argued the measure was a dangerous violation of local control.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, pointed to an explosive fire in Clive in 2021 in a 40-foot storage container containing explosives. “The explosion was so powerful it pushed the sides of the steel container out like a balloon. It took hours for our local fire departments to put it out,” she said. “They had to shut down major intersections. They had use special equipment to manage the incredible risk there was to the lives and safety of their fire personnel.”

Trone Garriott asked fellow senators: “Have you spoken with your city councils? Do you understand what is at stake when we take away a municipalities ability to regulate the presence and storage of massive amounts of explosives within their city limits?”

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Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, called the proposal the “blow up Main Street amendment.”

He said it “just doesn’t cut it to think that a restaurant and a hair salon and a shoe store ought to be located … next to the fireworks guy, right, where you have the potential to blow everything up if there’s an accident. It makes no sense. That’s why we’ve left this up to local folks,” he said.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, offered a proposal to limit the zoning change to cities of less than 20,000 population, arguing that larger cities have unique needs and situations that local officials and not state lawmakers should be addressing. The amendment was voted down along party lines.

Klimesh said the proposal would not change current law’s requirements that the fire marshal approve siting and that fireworks sellers carry insurance.

“What this bill does is it provides a check to cities that are trying to use spot zoning as an attempt to do an end run around the state’s law that allows fireworks to be sold legally in the state of Iowa,” Klimesh said.

The amendment and the larger bill passed along party lines and now move to the House for consideration.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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