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Pawleys Island: Fireworks ban stays, but without criminal penalty

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island will continue to ban fireworks, but violators will face civil rather than criminal charges. And under a change adopted by Town Council this week it will no longer be a crime to possess fireworks.

The town reviewed its ordinance after the S.C. Municipal Association last month sent a reminder to its members that state law allows them to regulate fireworks but not prohibit them.

Mayor Bill Otis said the changes to the ordinance approved this week were recommended by Town Attorney David DuRant. The exception to an outright ban is the public display of fireworks, which the ordinance allows with Town Council’s approval. The only public display approved by the town was on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

The town banned fireworks in 1990 out of concern that a fire could sweep through the rows of beachfront homes.

Woody DuRant, an attorney who was filling in for his father David, told Town Council this week the issue of possession creates problems with commercial activities allowed under state law. An attorney general’s opinion from 2011 on a proposed fireworks ordinance in the city of Gaffney notes that local government can’t criminalize activities allowed under state law.

“That’s a big issue, the criminal thing,” DuRant said.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman pointed out the restriction on possession was important because it helped police deal with people who shoot fireworks, but aren’t caught in the act. Last summer, the council told Police Chief Mike Fanning it wanted to see stricter enforcement of the fireworks ordinance. Officers issued warnings rather than tickets because they were concerned about the $500 fine, Fanning said. The council reduced the minimum fine to $50.

Under the revised ordinance, the fines range from $100 to $250. Because those are civil fines, additional state fees won’t be assessed.

DuRant had proposed a $25 minimum fine, but council members thought some people would pay the fine in order to shoot fireworks. “I think people are just going to blow that off,” Council Member Mike Adams said.

They agreed on the $100 minimum and asked DuRant to research ways to prohibit possession without violating state law.

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