During a public hearing Tuesday, lawmakers heard both support for and opposition to a measure intending to legalize the sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks in Guam, which are labeled as "safe and sane" products in the legislation. 

Bill 9-37 would add a new chapter of law outlining permitting regulations, fireworks storage and sales requirements and penalties for violating such provisions. Sales to minors are prohibited under the bill. The measure was introduced by Sens. Dwayne San Nicolas, Joe San Agustin, Roy Quinata, William Parkinson and Jesse Lujan, as well as Speaker Therese Terlaje and Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes.

Consumer-grade fireworks consist of snakes, sparklers, fountains and other fireworks intended for retail sale and use by the general public and are considered Division 1.4G explosives, formerly known as Class C common fireworks, according to Bill 9.

"Safe and sane" fireworks are defined as those designed to remain on or near the ground, spin rapidly, emit smoke or perform other effects and which are intended for public use. 

'A lot of sense'

Mark Mendiola, a former Guam Education Board member, testified he believed the measure made "a lot of sense" in terms of how it addresses safety issues and the responsible use of consumer-grade fireworks. 

But, Mendiola added that he also viewed the bill as a way to generate revenue for the Guam Fire Department and suggested adding a tax structure "to really help out" the department.

Under Bill 9, a permit "with a fee of $35" is required to sell consumer fireworks and any fines issued will be paid into the Fire, Life and Medical Emergency Fund, or FLAME Fund, which supports GFD.

A license also will be needed to sell fireworks, but the Bureau of Budget and Management Research points out, in the bill's fiscal note, that the measure does not state any associated cost with obtaining that license. It is also unclear into which fund the $35 permit fee will be deposited, BBMR added. 

The FLAME fund is used for purchasing, maintaining and repairing emergency rescue and firefighting vehicles, emergency life support and medical equipment. It also supports training for emergency medical technicians and paramedic certifications, as well as allowable personnel expenses, BBMR said.

The fund generates annual revenues of about $1.1 million for GFD, and while the department stands to gain more funds through Bill 9, the legislation also appears to require additional resources for GFD to perform new responsibilities, according to BBMR.

Mendiola said the mechanics "obviously" need to be worked out, but the general sentiment from him and those he has spoken to, is that something like Bill 9 is wanted. 

"The safety issue is also going to be a big one, but I think if we regulate it in a way, and I think, in the law, it gives the fire chief the opportunity to determine the types of fireworks," Mendiola said.

Some others also testified in support of the measure, but in clear opposition was former Guam Police Department Chief Fred Bordallo Jr.

"One of the interesting things I looked at is the (legislative) finding that said, should this legislation be passed into law, it would reduce the number of celebratory gunfire that we hear during New Year's Day or sometimes, Fourth of July," Bordallo said.

"It was interesting because there was no peer-reviewed cited research to authenticate that," he added. 

The former police chief went on to talk about consumer-grade fireworks being potentially weaponized, to create improvised explosive devices, for example.

"But then, I hear, of course, the rationale, 'Well you can weaponize anything.' But, I'm just saying, I'm sounding the signals now, as a citizen, about the ramifications," Bordallo said. 

GFD neutral

Acting GFD Chief Joey San Nicolas offered neutral testimony on Bill 9, citing statistics on injuries, deaths and fires started as a result of fireworks, while also acknowledging that they are a staple in many celebrations. 

Joey San Nicolas submitted to lawmakers a position statement from the International Association of Fire Chiefs, which is adamantly against the sale, importation and use of all consumer-grade fireworks.

"However, should Bill 9-37 pass, the Guam Fire Department believes extensive work must be conducted to facilitate the sale and the use of these fireworks on island," Joey San Nicolas said.

GFD will need additional funding to conduct inspections and enforce fines. Vendors also must be amenable to the possibility of retrofitting storage areas to include sprinkler systems and other requirements, for which costs would be significant, GFD's San Nicolas added.

While the department will enforce the law, it must be afforded the opportunity to research and possibly implement new fees and fines, as part of an overall fees and fines update, with a comprehensive program to regulate the sale of consumer-grade fireworks, Joey San Nicolas said.


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