Utah lawmakers are at odds about whether to hold a special session in order to grant local control over fireworks as the July holidays approach and as the state continues to face extreme drought conditions.

The back-and-forth over which level of government has the authority to ban fireworks began at a press conference last Thursday when Gov. Spencer Cox, who has issued three executive orders addressing Utah’s drought, said he supported a statewide fireworks ban but lacked the authority to implement one.

“I do think it is a good idea,” Cox said. “For me, fireworks are awesome, we love fireworks, we do fireworks every year with my kids and my family, but there are rare circumstances when things are so dire. If it were up to me, a really easy fix would say that any areas that are in exceptional drought shouldn’t have fireworks. That’s just a really easy fix.”

The governor said he told the Utah State Legislature he “think(s) it is a terrible idea not to have additional restrictions this year,” but added that “they haven’t shown any interest in doing anything” and preferred to let local governments “put those restrictions in place.”

In a written statement on Monday, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he did “not believe it is necessary for the Legislature to hold a special session at this time.”

“Instead, it is my hope that local leaders will determine what works best in their communities and that Utahns will act reasonably and responsibly as we celebrate Independence Day and Pioneer Day together,” Wilson wrote, adding that he believed lawmakers “have taken steps to empower local officials rather than imposing a statewide fireworks ban.”

But House Democrats disagreed with their GOP colleague and, in a written statement on Tuesday, expressed “extreme concern regarding the danger posed by fireworks with this year’s drought conditions” and called for a special session “to allow municipalities more local control over fireworks in their communities.”

“We have heard from our residents and local elected officials in our districts that they need and expect more during this extraordinary situation to help prevent a life-altering disaster in their neighborhoods,” House Democrats wrote. “Our brave firefighters must be protected from exceeding their capacity to respond in conditions ripe for incendiary calamity.”

The Democratic lawmakers further argued that “it is necessary for the legislature to grant local control during extreme drought conditions so that communities can assess and decide what is best to protect their residents, property, and economy.”

“We understand that fireworks are a universal part of our cherished July celebrations,” they said. “They symbolize the immense pride we have in our country and our state. This summer, under these extraordinary conditions, we need to come together in another great Utah tradition of protecting our neighbors and untie the hands of our local elected officials.”

Multiple Utah cities have moved to ban fireworks within city limits this summer, including Eagle Mountain, Park City and Salt Lake City.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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