Fireworks, June primary bills re-staged for House votes

Fireworks over the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 2010. Cheryl Taylor for MPR

Two hot-button bills zoomed through a House committee Tuesday and are back to the point where floor votes could occur on short notice.

With little discussion but on divided voice votes, the House Government Operations and Election Policy Committee advanced bills to expand legal fireworks sales and to hold earlier primary elections.

Both bills have a long history in the Legislature and stir passion on both sides. Each was modified to slightly delay when they would take effect.

In the case of the fireworks legislation, it would enable sales of certain aerial and display fireworks that are presently prohibited. Those retail sales could start in 2018 — the original bill had it happening this summer — and local governments would be barred from blocking fireworks sales covered by the bill. Local officials could impose fees on sellers, however.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill in 2012 that would have legalized more fireworks in Minnesota, which has tighter restrictions than its neighbors. Dayton has offered no indication he would change his stance if a new bill reached him.

On the flip side, Dayton has supported the other measure awaiting action by the Legislature. It would move Minnesota’s primary election from August to June.

The bill has long been in the pipeline, and promoted by lawmakers who say current primary participation is too low. Opponents worry about the election season getting longer because candidates would have to get going sooner.

Last year, backers hoped to get the bill in place in time for this year’s election. But inaction caused Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, to push off the possible conversion to 2020.

Both bills have further to go in the Senate, where committees didn’t hold hearings on them last year.