By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen has asked the Tennessee General Assembly to amend laws that prohibit the sale and use of fireworks in the city.
Board members took the action during a Jan. 22 special called meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Thomas McGhee and seconded by Alderman Al Bell. Tennessee law currently makes it illegal for any “entity” to sell “consumer fireworks” anywhere in Shelby County, except a single location in the city of Lakeland.
A resolution requesting the change defines consumer fireworks as “any small firework device designed to produce visible effects by combustion.”
The device must comply with all regulatory guidelines by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. Customs and the Department of Transportation, as well as all applicable federal safety standards. Fireworks are currently sold less than 1 mile north of the Millington city limits at the Shelby/Tipton County line.
The resolution states that the board supports the storage and retail sale of consumer fireworks if the number of locations, as well as dates and times of sale and use, can be regulated by ordinance.
At its regular meeting on Dec. 10, 2018, the board unanimously adopted a longer version of the resolution. On Jan. 3, City Finance Director John Trusty submitted it to The University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service for review. The next day, MTAS legal consultant Melissa Ann Ashburn told Trusty that the resolution was “very confusing,” and she believed it was “legally inoperative.” She said it should simply request that the current law be revised or repealed.
At its Jan. 14 regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to postpone reconsideration of the resolution until it could be reviewed by the Tennessee Municipal League. Three days later, Trusty sent a proposed new resolution to Ashburn, who said it “looks good.”
“It has sufficient detail to show the intent and will of the governing body,” she wrote. “It is clear in its meaning and makes the appropriate request of the General Assembly.”
But in her initial response to Trusty, Ashburn noted that cities typically do not adopt resolutions urging the legislature to repeal state laws. She said they usually do this through the TML or by hiring “private lobbyists.”
To legalize fireworks sales in Millington, Ashburn said the General Assembly would first have to repeal or revise Tennessee Code Annotated Section 68-104-112 (a)(4)(A), which she considers “very unlikely to occur.”
“There was a political battle when the law was changed in 2012,” she recalled. “So, you should anticipate that any attempt at revision now will face significant resistance from those who prevailed in 2012.”
If the law is changed, Ashburn said fireworks sales would not be legal in Millington until the board repealed Section 7-304 of the Municipal Code, which was added last year by ordinance.