A resident’s request for a citywide fireworks ban prompted a discussion among Ocala City Council members about the Florida Legislature’s role in city affairs during Tuesday’s meeting of the Ocala City Council.
Jeffrey Peltier, who has been a resident of Ocala and Marion County for more than 20 years, came before the council to request that the city look into potentially banning fireworks.
“I come to the city today asking and pleading with the City Council to consider a citywide ban on fireworks,” Peltier said.
Peltier, who has three children, informed the council that two of his children suffer from autism and one experiences hyper-sensitivity to a degree that can be debilitating.
“When a mortar goes off in the air, it’s as if a firearm is being lit off right next to my daughter’s ear,” explained Peltier.
Peltier further explained that illegal fireworks have been behind the loss of one of his pets, and that although the state of Florida bans certain types of fireworks, many residents are able to subvert the law through Florida Statute 791.07, which makes an exception for agricultural and fish hatchery use.
“The fireworks dealers that come to our city and state are selling these fireworks under a loophole in the law. The consumers are buying them on a technicality and agreeing that they will be used for those reasons,” explained Peltier.
He went on to suggest that law enforcement simply does not have the resources to address each and every complaint concerning illegal fireworks, and that it is not possible to enforce even the current laws.
“I know I’m one person, in a great city, surrounded by great residents. And I’m sure there’s others out there. I’m just here today to try and figure out, what is my next step? Do I start getting petitions signed? Is this possibly one of two times I come before you? My wife and family and I are just asking for assistance, guidance and help,” closed Peltier.
The City Council suggested that the matter was virtually impossible to change at the city level and would have to go to the Florida Legislature.
City Manager John Zobler stressed that the city’s rules and regulations pertaining to fireworks were in line with the state’s legislation, and that people were still able to find loopholes as a result.
“Our laws are consistent with state statutes. He’s right, there are exceptions to file paperwork for agricultural uses, and a lot of people do that,” Zobler said.
City Council President Mary S. Rich suggested that it might not be in the city’s best interest to pursue a citywide ban on fireworks.
“I don’t know if we want a citywide ban on fireworks. Thousands of children go out during [the Fourth of July],” said Rich. Rich turned to her fellow council members and asked if they would be interested in a citywide ban.
Peltier clarified that he was not making reference to sparklers and ground fireworks sold at big box retailers, but rather, the explosive fireworks that are only meant to be used in fish hatcheries and for agricultural purposes.
City Attorney Patrick Gilligan suggested that the statute was put in place by the Florida Legislature with little to no guidance for local municipalities. He mentioned that the issue came up nearly two decades ago and that the city realized it would have to defer this matter to the state Legislature until the laws were changed.
“There wasn’t much we could do until the Legislature changes the statute” said Gilligan, of conversations the city had in the past regarding the loophole.
“Back in the day, I don’t think there was lot of appetite in the county for doing anything. Unless the county and the city got together, all that would happen would be that you would have fireworks sale places on the outskirts of Ocala,” added Gilligan of any potential restriction.
He concluded that Peltier’s efforts may be in vain if the council were to pass an ordinance without getting the state Legislature to change the legislation.
“The city fire marshal, the county fire marshal, they wanted the same thing [Mr. Peltier] wanted, and they were not happy about it,” said Gilligan of the loophole created by the Florida Legislature.
The council, upon guidance by the city attorney, recommended that Mr. Peltier reach out to his legislative representatives to see if something could be done on the state level.
“OK, I know where I need to begin. Unfortunately, my wife and I are speaking for children that can’t speak for themselves” Peltier said.