ST. PAUL -- Public safety officials took to the steps of the Capitol on Friday in two news conferences and delivered these messages: Don't worry about terrorists over the Fourth of July holiday. Do worry about sparklers.
In the first news conference, Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver joined paramedics, firefighters and police in front of a backdrop of emergency vehicles. The purpose was to highlight anti-terrorism laws that take effect Monday.
The laws fall short of what Weaver and others had sought, but they do provide $13 million for such activities as search-and-rescue training and equipment for police. They also give guards at nuclear power plants and other "critical public service facilities" the power to detain people who trespass on posted land.
Other laws increase penalties for people who commit terrorism.
Weaver said people should feel confident they'll be safe from terrorism in Minnesota, despite concerns around the country that national symbols may be a target over the Fourth.
"Grab some potato salad, head to a park," he advised. "Grab a sparkler -- it's legal now -- and go out there and enjoy the Fourth."
But if they do grab sparklers, the state's fire marshal said in the second news conference, hold the right end and observe other elements of fireworks safety.
For the first time since 1941, novelty items and ground-based fireworks such as spark-shooting fountains are legal in Minnesota this year. Firecrackers and skyrockets remain illegal.
Fire Marshal Tom Brace spoke surrounded by packages of the now-legal devices along with a lobbyist for the fireworks industry. Though most firefighters opposed the new law, Brace refused to say whether he's uneasy about all the new products being sold this year: "Clearly the governor of the state is for fireworks and the commissioner of public safety is for fireworks and I work for those men."
The new products -- often sold in prepackaged bundles -- have names such as Laser Dragon, Starfire and Mad Dog Fountain with graphics showing big bursts on their covers. But Brace said the amount of explosive material in each is limited under the law.
He said adults should supervise children using the novelty items and said people should otherwise follow directions on the packages.
The lobbyist said sales are brisk and up to $3 million worth of the products could be sold through the weekend.
Taste of Minnesota officials, meanwhile, said people better leave the fireworks at home if they come to the annual event on the Capitol grounds. Even the novelty items remain illegal on state property.
"If you set them off here, you're going to pay the consequences," said director Ron Maddox.
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