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Zoldan blasts DeWine’s fireworks bill veto

NORTH LIMA — Bruce Zoldan, head of the country’s top consumer fireworks retailer, called Gov. Mike DeWine a “hypocrite” and a “coward” for vetoing a bill that would have made it legal to use fireworks in Ohio.

Zoldan, president and CEO of the Youngstown-based Phantom Fireworks, said DeWine had promised him Thursday that they would have a conversation Friday about the bill, but the governor repeatedly refused to take his phone calls.

“I’ve lost respect for the governor,” he said. “He just made the state of Ohio more unsafe with the veto.”

Zoldan also questioned the reasons given by DeWine for vetoing the consumer-grade fireworks bill.

“He’s cowardly by not finding a legitimate reason to veto the bill and not talking to me, who’s been a supporter of his for 30 years,” Zoldan said.

“It wasn’t quid pro quo. I was not asking for a favor for supporting him. This bill would have made Ohio safer. This bill won’t stop Ohioans from using fireworks, but now fire officials won’t work with us to do fire safety public service announcements. He threw out safety programs.”

While in North Lima on Friday to sign a bill naming a bridge for former state Rep. Don Manning, who died in March 2020, DeWine was asked by this newspaper about the fireworks bill. He said he had just vetoed it.

Asked why, DeWine said: “This bill does several different things. One, it creates 25 separate holidays in the state of Ohio where fireworks can be set off 24 hours a day, any time of day they can be set off. In addition to that, it does not provide the safety that’s needed where fireworks are actually sold. It doubles the size of the fireworks location from a maximum of 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.”

DeWine also said safety measures detailed in two studies — one by Battelle Labs in 2000 and another by Southwest Research in 2008 — wouldn’t be met by allowing fireworks stores to double in size.

“It’s not that we couldn’t get a bill that I would sign,” Dewine said. “But this bill puts Ohio in a small group of states that would, if it became law, be the most lenient in regards to fireworks. So there’s a bill to be had out there that I can sign. But this unfortunately is not the bill.”

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who sponsored the bill, said he was “very disappointed” by DeWine’s veto.

“A discussion on an override will be had over the course of this summer,” he said “We’ll meet with the caucus and it will be one of the big issues we’ll be talking about. I would imagine we have the votes to override. I’m disappointed because it was a quality bill.”

Along with Massachusetts, Ohio is the only state that prohibits the use of consumer-grade fireworks in the nation.

“Now we’re one of the outliers,” Rulli said. “We’re going to look at it and we’re going to do the right thing.”

To override DeWine’s veto, a three-fifths vote of the members of the House and Senate is needed and must be done no later than 90 days from Friday.

The Ohio House approved the bill 66-27 and the Senate approved it 26-7.

Zoldan said he’s spoken with legislators and expects a veto override when the General Assembly returns to session.

“The governor made a major mistake,” he said. “I’ll be upset today and I’ll be upset tomorrow and then I’ll get back to work Monday. This bill doesn’t hurt my business. We had the biggest year we ever had. With this bill, we had limited days. We tried to do everything we could to make the bill as best as it can be.”

BILL PROVISIONS

The bill, which would take effect 260 days after it become law, would make the discharge of consumer-grade fireworks legal on certain days: New Year’s Eve and Day; Chinese New Year; Cinco de Mayo; Memorial Day weekend; Juneteenth; July 3, 4 and 5 and the previous and following weekends; Labor Day weekend; and Diwali, a five-day Indian festival.

If certain holidays fall on a Sunday then two days would be allowed for that holiday.

The bill also permits the use of fireworks on “legal holidays” as defined by Ohio Revised Code. In addition to some of the days above, ORC lists the following as holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and “any day appointed and recommended by the governor of this state or the president of the United States as a holiday.”

Local governments could restrict dates and times or even impose a full ban on fireworks under the bill.

The bill would impose a 4 percent fee on the retail sale beginning 100 days after the bill’s effective date with that money used to fund firefighter training programs as well as pay for the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s regulation and enforcement of the fireworks industry.

The bill also establishes the Ohio Fire Code Rule Recommendation Committee made up of the state fire marshal, local fire chiefs, a local police chief, members of the Ohio State Pyrotechnics Association, a member of the Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness, an Ohio Optometric Association member, a member of the Ohio Pyrotechnic Arts Guild, a representative of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. The committee would advise the state fire marshal on rules about fireworks usage, sale, manufacturing licensing and wholesale licensing,

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