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City may impose civil penalties on illegal fireworks

MARYSVILLE City Councilman Lee Phillips said American patriot Ben Franklin suggested celebrating July 4 with fireworks and the shooting of guns to help mark the independence of the once fledgling United States from what had been the most powerful country on earth.

In Marysville, the shooting of guns for celebration purposes is definitely prohibited. Many varieties of fireworks are legal, at least from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., on July 4. Specified fireworks also are legal in Marysville on New Year's Eve.

Still, city officials want to crack down on the use of fireworks outside specified times and dates, as well as the use of fireworks classified as illegal under city codes.

One difficulty the city faces in controlling what it considers dangerous fireworks is the ready availability of nearly all types of fireworks on the Tulalip Reservation. Since there is no way for the city to regulate sales of fireworks in Tulalip, officials said the next best thing is to regulate the use of fireworks in the city.

At its meeting May 27, Council was expected to pass new rules making the use of illegal fireworks a civil as opposed to criminal offense. If adopted, the change would reduce the potential fine for illegal firework use from up to $5,000 to a still substantial $500.

The hope is the change actually will lead to increased enforcement of fireworks laws.

"Even though it might seem like we're letting people off the hook, we're not," insisted City Councilwoman Carmen Rasmussen.

"I think this is going to be the most effective means of enforcement," Phillips said.

"Legal fireworks are fine," added Councilman Jon Nehring. "But the rest are a problem."

Under the old rules, fireworks violators were charged with either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor. The latter carried with it a potential for the above-mentioned $5,000 fine as well as a year in jail. A normal misdemeanor charge entailed a possible $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Even setting aside the potentially stiff penalties, Rasmussen said processing a criminal complaint takes police a good deal of time. In the case of fireworks-related offenses, she feels, as do other officials, that's time police could better spend doing other things.

Rasmussen and others further talked about how local police were sometimes hesitant about burdening residents using fireworks with a criminal record, something that could even possibly prevent the accused from gaining a job requiring a criminal background check. But Rasmussen added police previously had no alterative if they wanted to enforce fireworks rules.

For his part, Phillips reiterated his belief that the new rules, once adopted, will lead to greater enforcement and more, not less, citations. He believes that's a good thing, though he specifically mentioned he is not at all in favor of banning what he called "safe and sane" fireworks.

Besides the fireworks available in Tulalip, fireworks stands normally are set up in various spots around the city with the approach of July 4. Rasmussen said the city provides those stands with flyers describing what constitutes legal and illegal fireworks under city rules.

According to the city Web site, illegal fireworks include firecrackers, rockets of any type and cherry bombs. Larger sized explosives commonly known an M-80's or M-100's also are illegal. What the city calls "salutes" and "tennis ball bombs" further are prohibited.

For more information on legal or illegal fireworks, go to the Marysville Web site at ci.marysville.wa.us and follow the quick link option to a fireworks rules page. City Community Information Officer Doug Buell said the information contained on the fireworks page would be updated if the new ordinance becomes official as expected.

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