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Schenectady Co. may ban sparklers ... again

Schenectady Co. may ban sparklers ... again

State law change means county must act again to prohibit sparklers
Schenectady Co. may ban sparklers ... again
Photographer: Shutterstock

SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- When Schenectady County last year became the first county in the state to repeal a local law allowing the limited use of sparklers and other small fireworks, county legislators thought the controversial matter was behind them.

But it isn't. Because of a change last year by the state Legislature, the county will have to ban sparklers and other small novelty fireworks all over again.

That will mean holding another public hearing, with all sides airing their views, from firefighters who believe even small pyrotechnics are a safety risk to users who say the county just wants to dampen their fun.

Earlier this week, the County Legislature set a public hearing on the proposed ban for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 2, in the county legislative chambers in Schenectady.

"Last year, we voted to exclude Schenectady County, but the [state] Legislature now allows them everywhere, unless a county opts out," said Legislator Gary E. Hughes, D-Schenectady, the County Legislature's majority leader.

It means the county will have to revisit an issue that brought out passions on both sides last year, after the county received complaints that legalizing smaller fireworks had apparently encouraged many residents to decide they could also openly use larger aerial fireworks. That prompted legislators to ban all fireworks.

What the county did in May was repeal a 2015 law that allowed sparklers. At the time, the state Legislature was requiring counties to opt-in to allow sparklers, and 40 counties did so; Schenectady became the first county in the state to change its mind, based on the experience here.

In January 2017, however, state Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Elmira, introduced legislation to make sparkling devices legal across the state, unless individual counties opt out. The purpose, his staff said in a legislative memo, was "to eliminate the regulatory 'patchwork' that presently exists with counties in New York state by exempting 'sparkling devices' from the definition of 'fireworks' and 'dangerous fireworks,' but permitting local cities and counties to adopt local laws that prohibit the use or sale of such devices."

With very little publicity, the measure passed the Assembly and Senate in June, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed it into law in October, making sparklers, in effect, legal across upstate. (They remain banned in New York City.)

The change modified a 2014 law approved by the state Legislature that made sparklers and similar devices legal for a handful of days each year -- a week leading up to the Fourth of July and the week leading up to New Year's Day. Under that law, however, the fireworks were legal only in counties that passed local laws. Otherwise, all fireworks were forbidden in New York state.

The law had an economic impact, though, with department stores and dollar stores setting up fireworks displays, and other vendors selling fireworks from tents set up in parking lots and gas stations across the region.

Every other county in the Capital Region has allowed fireworks, and it is likely Schenectady County will be the first, and perhaps only county, to opt out under the new law.

"We need to do this to preserve the status quo," said county spokesman Joe McQueen.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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