Judge halts higher permit fees for nonresident fireworks retailers

A judge in Baton Rouge issued an order Thursday barring the state fire marshal, for the time being, from charging nonresident fireworks retailers higher permit fees and penalties than resident retailers.

State District Judge Wilson Fields’ order, which came at the conclusion of a hearing, also prohibits the fire marshal from withholding 11 retail fireworks permits from C&A Pyro LLC, a Kansas company that sells fireworks in Louisiana.

Fire marshal attorney Erin St. Pierre and C&A Pyro attorney Andrew Quackenbos told Fields before he issued his order that the state had no objection to him making the preliminary ruling. Quackenbos and St. Pierre declined comment after the hearing.

It is illegal to sell fireworks in Louisiana without a permit issued by the fire marshal.

Permitted retailers are allowed to sell fireworks in the state from noon June 25 to midnight July 5, and from noon Dec. 15 to midnight Jan. 1. The fire marshal is prohibited from issuing retail fireworks permits during those periods.

C&A Pyro sued the fire marshal and his office last week, claiming an amended Louisiana law that imposes higher permit fees and penalties on nonresident fireworks retailers than on resident retailers is unlawfully discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Fields scheduled another hearing for Sept. 20 to address the legality of the amended law. St. Pierre told the judge the state Attorney General’s Office will defend the law at that hearing.

Prior to May 4, 2012, Louisiana’s fireworks law required the fire marshal to charge a $100 permit fee for all fireworks retailers who submitted a permit application on or before April 1 of the year for which the permit was sought. If the application and fee were submitted after April 1, a late fee equal to the permit amount would be charged.

The law was amended May 4, 2012, to set a permit fee of $100 for resident retailers and $800 for nonresident retailers. Retailers who submit applications and fees after April 1 still are charged a penalty equal to the permit fee, meaning the late fee is $100 for resident retailers and $800 for nonresident retailers.

The law defines resident as “any person who has been domiciled in Louisiana for a period of at least 12 months immediately preceding the date of application for the permit and who has not claimed residence in any other state for any other purpose.”

C&A Pyro submitted applications to the fire marshal March 28 to obtain 11 retail fireworks permits — one for each of the retail locations it operates in Louisiana — for 2013. The firm also submitted an $1,100 check. The fire marshal told the firm it owed $800 for each permit, or a total of $8,800.

The company claimed in its suit that it would suffer “substantial losses of revenue” if it did not receive its permits prior to June 25.

C&A Pyro operates a warehouse, two permanent retail spaces and nine temporary tent retail spaces in Louisiana, the suit says. Three of the retail locations are in St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes, and in Denham Springs.