There are currently two opportunities to buy fireworks in Ellis County – New Year’s and Independence Day. A series of bills now being considered by the 86th Texas Legislature could expand that number to eight times throughout the year.
Under current Texas law, fireworks can currently be sold June 24-July 4 and Dec. 20-Jan. 1 for Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, according to the Texas Occupations Code. County commissioners could also permit fireworks sales for Texas Independence Day, San Jacinto Day and Memorial Day, if they so decide.
The Ellis County Commissioners Court considered one such proposal during a Feb. 12 meeting. However, Ellis County Fire Marshal Tim Birdwell spoke against the item, stating that property damage, injuries and wildfires increase during fireworks use and sale periods.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks cause an average of 18,500 reported fires per year, while sparklers account for roughly one-quarter of all emergency room fireworks injuries.
If the county commissioners’ had decided to approve those use dates, they would have to also expand fireworks sale periods from February through May – adding another 18 purchasing days to the calendar year.
“If we open up for three more sales, that’s 18 more days in the year you can put fireworks into people’s hands,” Birdwell told the court. “Small children, toddlers, teenagers. I cannot support this.”
Pct. 3 commissioner Paul Perry remarked that he was in favor of the proposal, stating that residents need to possess the liberty to make their own individual decisions.
“I’m not against people popping fireworks,” Perry expressed. “I want a society where people have to have some responsibility.”
The commissioners’ court ultimately decided 3-1 to deny expanding firework sales in the county, with Perry voting in favor of the expansion.
“We’re not limiting the use of fireworks,” Pct. 2 commissioner Lane Grayson expressed. “We’re not taking away that freedom. We’re just trying to close the window of potentially using those fireworks.”
However, five bills recently passed out of the House County Affairs committee that would expand the sale and use dates in Texas — without an order from a county commissioners’ court. HB 581, HB 582, HB 915 and HB2063 would expand the Holidays to Labor Day, Juneteenth, Diwali, Texas Independence Day, San Jacinto Day and Cinco de Mayo.
A fifth bill, HB2748 would create a new classification of state fireworks license that would allow the sale of fireworks year-round.
As a response to pending legislation, Birdwell drafted a resolution similar to Grayson County’s that voiced opposition to any legislative action that would remove the county’s authority to regulate fireworks. Birdell remarked that due to dry weather and concern for public safety, some of these regulations are necessary to protect life and property in Ellis County.
And, without increased state funding to offset the increase in response from emergency services, resources for the county would be dramatically taxed to meet the needs of these expanded sales and use dates.
“In no way is this resolution have anything to do with sales or popping of fireworks,” Birdwell remarked. “It’s only for the county to keep its oversight.”
The commissioners’ court unanimously approved the resolution. And even though Perry was in favor of expanding the dates, he iterated that it should be the commissioner court’s decision to do so.
“I’m a Texan,” he iterated. “I am for local control.”
The bills being considered by the Legislature are currently waiting on a vote by the House. The current session ends on May 27.