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Illinois lawmakers pushing to ease ban on most fireworks

Push to legalize fireworks sales in Illinois
Push to legalize fireworks sales in Illinois 02:56

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois has some of the strictest laws in the nation when it comes to fireworks. Now there's a push to lift the ban on most fireworks.

Illinois is among three states to ban most fireworks. Safety has always been the main concern, but with Indiana and Wisconsin just a quick drive away, the law doesn't prevent people from getting their hands on fireworks by simply crossing state lines.

Illinois currently only allows for the sale and possession of smaller novelty fireworks with a limited aerial range, such as sparklers, party poppers, and small cone fountains. Only licensed operators can have and set off larger fireworks like those used at Navy Pier and other public fireworks shows.

But a renewed push to expand fireworks sales in Illinois has taken flight.

Neighborhood firework shows have been constant the past couple of weeks around July 4th, and that's why the lawmakers behind the push to lift the Illinois ban on most fireworks have said if people are getting their hands on the anyway, why not keep that money in Illinois?

Leading up to July 4th, regulated professional fireworks shows have lit up the skies. So have illegal amateur ones seen in just about every neighborhood. 

Near Midway International Airport, several garages were destroyed by a fire sparked by illegal fireworks this week.

"I saw smoke, and then I saw the telephone pole over here on fire," said Richard Irmiter, who lives nearby.

The fire has reignited conversation surrounding a bipartisan bill that would that would make some fireworks legal in Illinois.

"Leave the fireworks to the professionals," said Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt. "We need your help to keep them illegal, because the ones we are seeing are illegal fireworks even sparklers are dangerous."

Illinois State Reps. Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook) and Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) both sponsored legislation to expand fireworks sales in Illinois.

"The fact is that we're not stopping people from using fireworks. It's happening," Carroll said.

"This is actually just a very small expansion to essentially allow for what's called ground sparklers," Sosnowski said. "We're losing out on tax revenue. We're losing out on sales. People are buying them anyways. If used properly, they're safe."

Margaret Vaughn, government affairs director for both the Illinois Firefighters Association and Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, is fighting to drench the proposed legislation and keep Illinois strict on fireworks.

"This legislation, it's designed to be deceptive and confusing," she said.

Vaughn said the legislation is backed by an out-of-state fireworks company.

"People think it's just a little sparkler that you just … holding in your hand, you would put in the ground, but that's not the case," she said.

Carroll said he understands why some people oppose the legislation.

"I get where they're coming from, but again we are seeing these products in Illinois time and time again," he said.

This bill is still making its way through Springfield. It's unclear how much money Illinois would bring in if fireworks were legally sold, but sponsors of the legislation anticipate millions of dollars going to the state. 

"How do you put a price on an eye or a hand?" Vaughn said.

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