The Fourth of July will be quieter this year -- maybe -- assuming the public obeys a new law the Schenectady County Legislature adopted Tuesday night.
By a 13-2 vote, the county became the first in the state to repeal the law counties could adopt starting in 2015 that made small ground-based fireworks like sparklers legal, even though all other fireworks remain illegal.
The problem, according to those who sought repeal, is that since the law was passed, the use of larger and still-illegal fireworks seems to have increased, especially in urban areas like the city of Schenectady.
"There's abuse taking place in the guise of people saying, 'I thought it was legal,' whether they really believe that or not," said Legislature Majority Leader Gary L. Hughes, D-Schenectady. "It has become an annoying if not dangerous situation is some communities in our county."
Those who voted against repealing the 2015 law were Republicans James Buhrmaster, R-Glenville, and Brian McGarry, R-Rotterdam.
"We're going to restrict the freedoms of the law-abiding because of the actions of the lawless," McGarry said, adding that he didn't think the county has tried educating people about which devices are legal and which are illegal.
"I don't think we've given it enough time," Buhrmaster said. "People have been doing illegal fireworks for decades."
The 2014 law approved by the state Legislature made sparklers and similar devices legal for a few days each year, those leading up to the Fourth of July and to New Year's Day, but only in counties that passed local laws. Otherwise, all fireworks are forbidden in New York state. Since 2015, 40 counties have passed laws allowing sparklers; Schenectady County is the first to repeal its law.
Speakers at a public hearing last week said the use of illegal aerial fireworks has increased dramatically, especially in the city. The number of 911 calls about fireworks has gone at the county dispatch center, according to Hughes, police have responded to more fireworks complaints. Firefighting officials have consistently opposed the sparkler aw since prior to its adoption, and remain opposed.
The Schenectady City Council called for repeal last year within the city, but the state legislation requires actions apply in entire counties.
"The city is extremely happy about this," said City Council member Karen Zalweski, who spoke before the vote. "I think going forward this is the best solution for everybody."
But Eric Dickson of Rotterdam spoke against repeal. "I don't know that that's a reason to repeal the law, saying that citizens weren't educated enough," he said.
Hughes and other supporters of the repeal acknowledged there may be fewer problems in rural areas than in the city, but said the state law doesn't let them treat rural areas differently.
"Starting a week and a half before the Fourth of July it goes until 2 a.m.," said Legislator Karen Johnson, D-Schenectady. "It's difficult to sleep, it's difficult to find any peace in your life."
The repeal takes effect immediately. There have been 30 places in the county that sold sparklers, ranging from Wal-Mart to tents set up in parking lots.
"I fault the promoters," Hughes said. "They took their marketing right to the edge. They put up big signs that said fireworks are sold here, not sparklers are sold here."
Sparklers will remain available and legal to use during the two annual sales periods in all other counties in the Capital Region.