Senator Julie Slama - Photo Courtesy of Julie Slama
Senator Julie Slama pictured in the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. Photo courtesy of Julie Slama.

A bill currently in the Legislature would allow residents to purchase their fireworks in Nebraska rather than traveling to a neighboring state.

Introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, LB152 would change the definition of “consumer fireworks” under Nebraska law to mean any device that meets federal requirements and has been approved either by the state fire marshal or a nationally recognized testing facility.

“LB152 simply harmonizes our state’s definition with the federal definition of consumer fireworks,” she said. “That means a lot of the same fireworks that are legal in South Dakota and Missouri — fireworks that thousands of Nebraskans travel across the border to purchase already — those would become legalized.”

Slama said LB152 would not replace local ordinances, so residents with local fireworks ordinances should not be concerned about major changes in their neighborhoods.

In 2019, Missouri had $51.6 million in fireworks sales. Taking Missouri’s larger population into account, Slama said that is a rate of fireworks sales three times higher than in Nebraska, which was around $6 million the same year.

“Those increased revenues could have a trickle-down effect to benefit different areas of Nebraska’s economy,” she said. “We could be seeing more people spend their money locally, not just at local firework stands, but also spending their money at local businesses and making a trip of it. So keeping that money in Nebraska is certainly a benefit of LB152.”

Safety was at the forefront of drafting the bill, Slama said, and it has earned the support of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which has the final say on which fireworks are legal in the state. Wire sparklers have been excluded preemptively because they have a disproportionately high number of accidents and injuries associated with them, Slama said.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, an opponent of the bill, has concerns about accidents and injuries due to fireworks. Unintended consequences, she said, are increased homeowners and health insurance premiums.

“It also has potential for raising your health insurance if people are blowing off their hands and their fingers or having severe burns,” she said. “Anything that requires a trip to an emergency room or a doctor’s office can potentially raise your insurance rates because those fees are spread out amongst all the members within your insurance group.”

Blood is also concerned about fireworks triggering post traumatic stress disorder, particularly in veterans. She said more veterans reside in her district — which covers eastern Nebraska counties like Lancaster and Douglas — than any other district in Nebraska.

Blood said in her experience working with veterans issues over the last five years, she has heard stories of veterans needing to leave their homes around the Fourth of July in order to avoid triggers to their PTSD.

“People tell me they have to go on vacation during the 10 days leading up to the Fourth of July and go to a state where there are no fireworks. Or I’ve had other people say [they] have to go and stay in the basement of [their] parents’ house, and [they] can’t leave during those 10 days leading up to the Fourth of July,” she said. “I can’t ethically support a bill that I know has the potential to hurt the veterans in my district and across Nebraska.”

In response to these concerns, Slama said she does not believe the bill would make much of a difference for those with PTSD, as thousands of Nebraskans already purchase fireworks out-of-state each year and set them off in Nebraska.

“I respect our veterans and empathize with all those who suffer from PTSD. I really do. But what it seems those senators were suggesting on the floor was that we ban fireworks all together,” she said. “LB152 doesn’t supersede local ordinances. It really wouldn’t increase the amount of noise you could expect in your average neighborhood on the Fourth of July.”

Senior journalism major | Editor-in-chief at The Daily Nebraskan | [email protected]