Justin Locke's drive across state lines to purchase fireworks may be over.
A bill signed into law on Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal legalizes the sale and use of fireworks in the Peach State, and Locke hopes this means a store will open in his hometown of Fort Oglethorpe soon.
"It will be so much more convenient if we can just buy fireworks here," Locke said. "I think it's pretty cool that we no longer have to worry about the cops getting called on us, or having to drive all the way to East Ridge to get fireworks for holidays and stuff."
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said this is exactly why he pushed for this bill to become law, as every state bordering Georgia, except North Carolina, sells fireworks.
"People all over my neighborhood were going out of state to buy fireworks," he said. " ... I wanted the revenue from the sale of fireworks to stay here in Georgia."
Mullis said he once drove to several fireworks stores in Tennessee to look at the license plates of the cars parked outside. At each stop, he said, a majority of the cars had Georgia tags.
Critics of the bill cited public safety as their main concern, and Mullis acknowledges that fireworks can be dangerous if not used properly. Because of that, he is sponsoring a bill in the next legislative season that allocates the proceeds of the excise taxes on the sale of fireworks to the funding of trauma care, fire services, burn treatment and for local public safety.
"If this bill passes, it will ensure that the tax-money is going to good use," Mullis said.
Dr. Evelyn Johnson of Brunswick, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents more than 10,000 physicians across the state, said in a statement that allowing fireworks "will surely lead to many more injuries and fires."
Georgia's old fireworks law "minimized the injury and harm" and the new measure would "needlessly send scores of children and teens to hospital emergency rooms," she said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, had been tabled and appeared dead at the end of the legislative session. But, Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, resurrected it in the closing hours with several last-ditch amendments that made it acceptable to a handful of opponents.
The new law prohibits the possession of fireworks in school zones, at school functions or on school buses.
Candy Clowers, who works at Exit 1A Fireworks in East Ridge, said fireworks stores opening in Georgia shouldn't disrupt sales in Tennessee.
"We have had four years to build up our business and people know who we are and what we do," Clowers said. " ... This is an industry that has room for a lot of people."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.