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Fireworks Ban Fizzles In D.C. Council Vote

Tommy Wells
Tommy Wells (Jacquelyn Martin - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; Page B01

Fireworks will sizzle. And, most important to a majority of D.C. Council members, sparklers will sparkle in the city this Fourth of July.

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The council rejected an emergency ban on all fireworks in an 11 to 2 vote last night toward the end of a nine-hour meeting during which the legislative body approved a heavily amended noise bill. The council also gave final approval to the budget support act of the 2009 fiscal spending plan, which totals $5.7 billion in local funds.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) pushed for the ban and announced the proposal at a news conference Friday in front of a firehouse with a table full of miniature pyrotechnics. Only professional staging of fireworks would have been permitted if the ban had passed.

But council members were wary of approving legislation just a few weeks before vendors are legally allowed to set up their makeshift stands along Georgia Avenue and other thoroughfares.

A few council members said they opposed the outright ban because the city already prohibits the private use of fireworks that shoot into the sky. According to the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Web site, the city permits 10 types of fireworks.

Cherry bombs? Illegal. Sparklers longer than 20 inches? Illegal.

Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and others talked nostalgically about playing with sparklers when they were younger or enjoying them with their children.

"My goodness, they're on birthday cakes now," said Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large).

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said an emergency ban would be unfair to vendors who have purchased their products for the seasonal sales. He voted "no. With a bang."

If the ban had passed, the District would have joined Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, the states listed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as banning all consumer fireworks. Locally, Montgomery and Prince George's counties do not allow private use of fireworks. Other jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, have a list of permitted fireworks.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said residents who do not like the boom and whistle in their neighborhoods told him that all sides should be aired at a public hearing.

Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) chimed in that Graham had proposed a ban last year but was unable to get a hearing through the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, headed by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).

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