New Year's Eve may be a little louder than usual in Pennsylvania, thanks to a new state law that allows residents to buy bigger fireworks.
The law, signed in October by Gov. Tom Wolf, was part of a budget package designed to plug a massive state deficit. It broadened the legal sale and use of fireworks and slapped a new 12 percent tax on the purchases. The state hopes to collect as much as $9 million from the tax next year.
Now, anyone who is 18 can buy "consumer" fireworks, which can fly hundreds of feet in the air. Previously, most Pennsylvanians could only buy "novelty" fireworks.
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The most powerful fireworks used in professional shows are called "display" and are still off-limits to most buyers.
But this means far more fireworks can be sold to Pennsylvanians at stores such as Intergalactic Fireworks in Langhorne. "This used to be the Pennsylvania aisle," said Anthony LoBianco of Intergalactic Fireworks, gesturing to one section of the store. "Now the entire store is the Pennsylvania aisle."
Just because the fireworks can be sold legally doesn't mean they can always be used legally.
The fireworks can only be set off on private property where the property owner gives permission. They can't legally be used under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Also, they cannot be set off within 150 feet of an occupied structure, which means they cannot legally be set off in many urban and suburban communities.
But fire officials say regulating illegal fireworks is always tough, and now the fireworks available will be stronger.
"Multiple times we've seen fingers blown off, eye injuries, face injuries," said Deputy Commissioner Gary Loesch of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
He recommended following directions closely, having a bucket of water or hose nearby and keeping all fireworks away from children.
Pennsylvania isn't alone in the loosening of fireworks laws.
Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association says a growing list of states are authorizing the sale and use of the full line of consumer fireworks regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Heckman says fireworks sales have grown rapidly and states are loosening their laws to keep that tax revenue in-state.