Burning the (roman) candle at both ends
New Mexico didn’t just become an arid state, and drought isn’t exactly new here. So how did we manage to strip everyone from local fire chiefs to the governor of the authority to ban fireworks? In the last 10 years, lawmakers made three attempts to reform fireworks laws and one to liberalize them. Guess which succeeded?
In 2007, SB 267, by Sen. James Taylor, pretty much made the sky the limit for fireworks. The bill, signed into law, permits everything from rockets to firecrackers, fountains to spinners, roman candles and eight kinds of flying devices. It prohibited just three: stick-type rockets with tubes smaller than five-eighths inches by 3.5 inches, fireworks with sounds other than a whistle, devices with a charge of more than 130 milligrams of explosive composition per report.
Worse, the law prohibited local governments from passing ordinances to regulate and ban any permissible fireworks except aerial devices and ground audible devices.
In 2005, SB 841, by Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, would have allowed local governments to regulate fireworks more stringently than the state, including prohibition of fireworks allowed by the state. During severe droughts, local governments could have banned fireworks or limited them to paved or barren areas or places with readily accessible water. It died in committee.
In 2004, SB 173, by Sen. Dede Feldman, would have banned fireworks sales in riverside cottonwood forests. It also tried to provide steps for local governments to ban fireworks during droughts and give the governor authority to temporarily ban fireworks and impose other restrictions. Feldman said recently that the fireworks lobbyist made such a dramatic presentation the bill died in her own committee. Every summer all the legislators get a bag of free fireworks.
In 2003, HB 454, by Rep. Manuel Herrera, would have allowed local governments to ban or restrict the sale or use of fireworks and limit times that fireworks could be sold. SB 204, a similar measure that year by Sen. Richard Martinez, also allowed local governments to ban fireworks on wildlands. Both died in committee.
So there you have it. Meanwhile, we read anxiously about new fires reported in the paper. We now learn that the Donaldson Fire in Lincoln County is eligible for fire management help from FEMA. Before you start with the FEMA jokes, remember that before Katrina the agency was actually pretty efficient and hopefully has learned a few things since then.
The fires are dreadful enough without thinking about people who’ve been driven from their homes a second or third time. There’s another fire victim here — the tourism industry.
If I might mention an upside, it’s the generosity we see at times like this. Never mind the heat and smoke, people open up their hearts, their homes — and their barns. One of the more interesting developments is the website helplosalamos.com. Late last week, there were 81 offers of housing in Santa Fe and 104 outside of Santa Fe. The most interesting gestures were the animal lovers: 31 posts from people who will happily take in dogs, cats, horses, exotic birds, goats, rabbits, and reptiles.
A woman in Portales offered space for eight horses and two people. A Taos woman was willing to transport and care for exotic birds. From Alamogordo was an offer to meet people in Socorro and care for their dogs. A number of people with horse paddocks were willing to provide feed. And in Estancia, residents would take large and small livestock and even provide their trailers for hauling.
I’m sure these same folks would extend a hand to those displaced from other fires. This summer, when your state legislators are out hobnobbing at picnics and ball games, thank them for their hard work. And then ask them to get real about fireworks legislation.
© New Mexico News Services 2011