Proposed County Fireworks Restriction Ordinance Violates State Law

By Paul Gable

At its regular meeting Tuesday night, Horry County Council passed first reading of an ordinance that would allow the council to unilaterally designate No Fireworks Zones in the unincorporated areas of the county.

This ordinance, as written, directly contravenes both the spirit and letter of state law.

The proposed ordinance, 155-2021, sub-section c states: “County No Fireworks Areas shall be any geographic location, as determined by County Council, wherein the prohibition against fireworks under this section is deemed appropriate. Such areas may be designated only by Resolution of County Council and must state with adequate specificity the area encompassed as to be readily identifiable by the general public and Horry County officials and employees.”

State law, section 23-35-175 (C) states “an owner, a lessee or managing authority of real property may establish a Fireworks Prohibited Zone by (1) filing a Discharge of Fireworks Prohibited Agreement with the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the subject property.”

State law goes on to say the zone must exhibit at least two signs, stating fireworks are prohibited visible from the street and any adjoining public property. In addition, the owner, lessee or managing authority of the property may request county council to extend the prohibited zone up to 500 feet into any adjoining public property such as a park or to the low water mark of a public beach adjoining the property.

State law is specific in that the initial action must come from the property owner, lessee or managing authority to the law enforcement agency. There is no provision in state law for the initial action to come directly from county council. Any direct action by county council would be a usurpation of property rights by county council on any property included in a county council initiated prohibition and is not allowed by state law.

It is hard to understand how this ordinance even came before council considering how blatantly it violates state law. One would expect the county attorney to explain the conflict with state law to any council member desiring such an ordinance to be drafted.

According to several sources familiar with issues in Columbia, at least one member of the Horry County Legislative Delegation was unsuccessful in having state law amended to allow such a prohibition to be designated directly by county council. However, that failure doesn’t mean council can go ahead on its own without proper enabling legislation from the state.

If county council were to approve three readings of the ordinance making it law, I would expect the county to suffer the same fate that the City of Myrtle Beach did when it passed an illegal ordinance, approximately 13 years ago, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets within the city limits.

That helmet ordinance was in violation of state law, a lawsuit ensued, the city lost the lawsuit and money and there is no helmet ordinance in Myrtle Beach today.

If county council should pass two more readings of this ordinance, state law will blow it up in council’s face.

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