Efforts by Newton city leaders to hold illegal fireworks users accountable is a step in the right direction. At a recent city council meeting, the first reading of an ordinance was approved to enact a social host section to the city’s code, allowing for the enforcement of illegal fireworks by holding a “responsible party” accountable for the illegal activity.
In the state law enacted in 2017, cities were only allowed to charge violators with a simple misdemeanor, meaning law enforcement is required to have probable cause to believe a specific individual had used the fireworks illegally. Due to the large number of calls last year, up 330 percent from 2017, law enforcement was unable to gain the evidence to identify specific citizens using fireworks illegally, so no enforcement was taken.
With the ability to use a social host ordinance, law enforcement will be able to hold a “responsible party” accountable for any illegal activity. The change to the city’s code will mean the responsible party can’t allow the display of fireworks on the private property in an illegal way. If they are found doing so, they would be in violation of the ordinance change.
Should a person or responsible party be found in violation, they would face a $250 penalty for the municipal infraction.
City attorney Matthew Brick said Newton is not alone in trying to figure out how to combat the illegal use of fireworks. Six other communities including Muscatine, Ankeny, Waukee, Polk City, Mitchellville and Windsor Heights are also pursuing or have adopted similar language.
By finding a way to hold illegal fireworks users accountable, as the holiday season rolls around this year, we hope the number of violators will decrease and locals will have a more peaceful night.
The ordinance change has two additional readings before being adopted into code, but the council appears to be heading down the right path.