Legislation to crack down on balloon pollution in Florida floated through its first committee stop with buoyant support.
On Tuesday, the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Committee voted unanimously for HB 321, which would reclassify intentionally released balloons as litter.
The measure drew bipartisan plaudits from both sides of the dais, including airy praise from members of the Humane Society, Sierra Club Florida, Oceana, Florida Retail Association and others.
“There’s no good reason to intentionally release a balloon,” said the bill’s sponsor, St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney. “Balloons do not go to heaven. Hopefully, balloons will go into statutes.”
Before the panel approved HB 321, Chaney proffered and received approval for a strike-all amendment bringing the bill’s language in line with its Senate analog (SB 602) by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Nick DiCeglie.
Under the amended measure, the outdoor release of all balloon types except hot air balloons recovered after launch would be banned, including previously exempted ballons supposedly made of biodegradable or photodegradable substances.
“Because there’s no such thing as a biodegradable balloon,” Chaney said.
State law currently allows the intentional daily release of up to nine balloons of any type. HB 321 and SB 602 would nix that allowance. It would also switch the associated penalty from a $250-per-violation fine to a $150 charge per infraction.
Of every $150 fine collected, $50 would go to the state’s Solid Waste Management Trust Fund, which helps pay for various rubbish-related abatement, documentation, educational and recycling programs. It also funds mosquito control efforts.
Chaney said she visited the veterinary school at the University of Florida, which “consistently” performs surgeries on livestock that ingest balloons that fall into farm fields. The state’s plentiful beaches are also hotspots for negative impacts.
“Florida is a top nesting location for turtles and the only location in the U.S. where leatherback turtles can nest, and a released balloon harms not only the environment but marine and livestock,” she said. “By moving the release of balloons to the litter statute, there’s also an educational component that will aid public awareness of this issue.”
The bills by DiCeglie and Chaney, both Republicans, come seven months after state lawmakers gave no play to similar legislation Chaney sponsored with Hollywood Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo.
According to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, nearly 300,000 balloons were found along U.S. beaches between 2008 to 2016 — more than 31,000 balloons per year.
HB 321 has two more stops — the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee — before reaching a floor vote.
SB 602 awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which it was referred.
If approved, the legislation would go into effect July 1.