published Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Dean criticizes opposition to East Ridge fireworks bill


by Chris Carroll
  • photo
    Tennessee state representative Vince Dean. Staff Photo by Patrick Smith

A lobbying effort against a bill that would allow fireworks sales in East Ridge is merely a pause before the grand finale, according to the lawmaker pushing its passage.

“The opposition is unfounded,” state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said Tuesday. “I really don’t understand it. I have a majority.”

The bill would not require fireworks sales in East Ridge, but its passage would allow City Council members to explore a market historically dominated by rural counties and towns.

Under state law, vendors in Tennessee’s most populated counties — Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton — cannot sell fireworks.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, whose district includes East Ridge, wants to keep it that way.

“You think gaudy fireworks stands and tents and everything are going to add to the value of your city?” Boyd said. “Come on.”

East Ridge last week released a statement saying fireworks would have to be sold in permanent buildings and that regulations would prohibit “gaudy or outlandish” signs.

Dean said fireworks in East Ridge would bring revenue to the city from people driving in from the rest of Hamilton County and nearby Georgia. The city stands to gain $14,810 annually, according to a fiscal note attached to the legislation.

“Those places [fireworks sellers] boom; people stop off the side of the interstates,” said Justin Kirk, an East Ridge resident. “It doesn’t have to be trashy.”

Dean’s bill hit the House floor for a vote Monday, but he postponed it until next week so the Senate could first pass a similar version.

That hasn’t stopped Boyd from calling several legislators in a last-minute attempt to derail the bill, blaming his “really, really late” involvement on East Ridge leaders who asked for Dean’s bill.

“I was not given the consideration to even be told about it,” said Boyd, adding that he found out about the fireworks legislation from a story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Dean and other legislators said Boyd’s opposition is not only late, but misplaced.

A Republican-dominated Legislature has made it “much easier” for the bill to pass once it reaches the House floor, Dean said, and a similar Senate bill requires two-thirds approval of the East Ridge City Council before sales would be legalized.

“It makes a lot better sense to lobby five people on a City Council than it would to lobby 132 members of the General Assembly,” Dean said.

One East Ridge resident criticized the hypocrisy of forbidding some kid-unfriendly revenue sources and allowing others.

“Let’s not sell beer near the children at Camp Jordan, but let’s give them fireworks so they can blow their fingers off,” Frances Pope said.

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