East Ridge fireworks bill clears panel

East Ridge fireworks bill clears panel

March 23rd, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Tennessee state representative Vince Dean. Staff Photo by Patrick Smith

Tennessee state representative Vince Dean. Staff Photo by...

A little lawmaker banter was all it took for East Ridge to take a big step toward selling sparklers, bottle rockets and other fireworks.

Addressing the state House Finance, Ways and Means Committee in Nashville, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, began explaining the merits of opening the door to fireworks sales in Hamilton County, but only in East Ridge for now.

"This is a simple bill that allows for ...," Dean said, before being cut off by Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who said he had heard a motion and a second.

Dean closed a paper folder, pushed away his notes and appeared surprised.

Within seconds, the Republican-majority committee approved Dean's bill on a voice vote, with Sargent declaring no opposition. It now moves to the House Calendar and Rules Committee, where, if approved, the bill will advance to the House floor.

"You know, Representative Dean, we've finally come to a conclusion on this, haven't we?" asked Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

"Yes, sir," Dean replied.

On several occasions since his election in 2004, Dean has tried to get fireworks legislation approved, only to see the bills fizzle in the face of resistance from rural lawmakers whose districts dominate the fireworks business.

Under state law, most vendors in counties that host Tennessee's four largest metropolitan areas - Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga - cannot sell fireworks.

Dean has said East Ridge could benefit from residents of Hamilton County coming in to buy fireworks, as well as Georgia residents who live just across the state line. Georgia does not allow fireworks sales.

On Monday, Dean credited his success to an amendment that would hold the bill's effective date until July 1, 2012, which would give fireworks vendors in nearby counties - including Marion and Bradley counties - enough time to "set up shop in East Ridge."

Another representative asked Dean how many times he had tried to push fireworks sales, and Dean said "ever since I've been here."

East Ridge concluded the most recent fiscal year with a $681,999 budget deficit. A fiscal note attached to Dean's bill said East Ridge stands to gain $14,810 annually if the state issues 10 permits to sell fireworks within the city's limits.

"I don't agree with that fiscal note," Dean said. "Nobody would have fought me if it was a small amount of money."

POLL: Would you buy fireworks if they were available in East Ridge?