Every Fourth of July and New Year's Eve, sparks of light can be seen in the sky above many residential neighborhoods because of the lack of regulation surrounding fireworks in unincorporated Harris County.
While many other municipalities, such as the city of Houston and smaller cities like Tomball and Jersey Village, do not allow firework usage inside city limits, county governments can only do what the Texas Constitution or state Legislature allows.
State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, has filed a bill for the past five consecutive legislative sessions, including the upcoming 84th Legislative Session, to regulate the sale and use of fireworks. However, the measure has failed to receive enough support in the past from other legislators.
"It's an issue I hear about from my constituents every single holiday season where fireworks are sold and allowed to be popped," Harless said. "In unincorporated Harris County, we're 1.5 million people. [Shooting off fireworks] was fine when we were the suburbs and a rural area, but now our houses are built close together and most of the land is developed so it becomes dangerous for pets and homes."
The bill narrowly defines the definition of fireworks, primarily relating to missiles and fins and does not ban any professional fireworks displays.
Harless made one change to House Bill 152 for the 84th Legislative Session, adding in a clarification that if the bill passes, county commissioners must call an election on the issue. Additionally, the bill would only be relevant in counties with a population of at least 3.3 million people, which would affect only Harris County.
"People in unincorporated Harris County will have the opportunity to vote on it," Harless said. "We did that to get it out of committee and onto the House floor. People were concerned that other counties would follow suit."
Many of the concerns related to fireworks that Harless said she hears from residents in her district focus on noise and safety issues, since the county only has the authority to regulate fireworks during a time of drought when the Keetch-Byram Drought Index reaches a certain marker.
"People can lose their homes and businesses when fireworks are popped in dry conditions," Harless said. "We have drought indexes that apply to fireworks, but it's such a high standard. I like to watch the displays, but I don't like to pop them in a subdivision where it can be invasive to my neighborhood."