Bill classifying balloons as litter floats from House floor on near-unanimous vote
Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Balloons NOAA
The bill’s lack of any educational provision drew a ‘no’ vote from 1 House member.

Floridians may soon want to hold their balloon strings tighter and find other ways to celebrate and commemorate loved ones.

A bill (HB 321) that would reclassify intentionally released balloons as litter is now floating to the Senate after clearing the House on 114-1 vote.

“There is no good reason to intentionally release a balloon, and there are a lot of bad reasons,” said St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney, the bill’s sponsor.

“Balloons do not go to heaven. If you adopt this bill, hopefully they will go in statute.”

HB 321 and its Senate twin (SB 602) by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Nick DiCeglie would delete a section of Florida Statutes allowing the intentional release of up to nine helium-filled balloons daily. It would also nix an allowance for so-called “biodegradable or photodegradable” balloons, which Chaney said are nonexistent “when you consider the strings and the attachment device.”

Any outdoor balloon releases, except for hot air balloons recovered after launch, would be considered littering, a noncriminal offense punishable by a $150 per violation fine.

Chaney referenced surgeries she learned of at the University of Florida, where veterinary students and faculty remove balloons from livestock. She noted that Florida is also a top nesting area for turtles and the only nesting habitat for leatherback turtles.

“By moving the intentional release of a balloon into the litter statute, it is my hope that the education and awareness of the dangers of intentionally releasing a balloon when celebrating is brought to light,” she said.

A lack of any actual educational provision in the measure earned the bill a “no” vote from Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart.

Hart told Florida Politics she talked with Chaney about adding outreach and informational requirements to the bill. Releasing balloons on special occasions, particularly in remembrance of lost loved ones, is a popular aspect of Black culture. Similar attempts to ban balloon releases in other states, including Louisiana, failed in part or entirely for that reason.

“If you don’t tell people and we put this law into place, then we’re going to have people getting fined at cemeteries, where we normally do our releases,” she said. “I thought adding an educational portion to the bill was the direction it was going to go in.”

Hart said that after the vote Wednesday, Chaney assured her that she would reach out to funeral homes, party supply stores, supermarkets and other places to spread awareness.

Numerous environmental groups, the Florida Retail Association and Florida Cattlemen’s Association backed Chaney and DiCeglie’s bills as they moved through the committee process this year.

The bills are similar to legislation Chaney and Hollywood Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo sponsored last year, both of which died without a hearing.

Hunter Miller, field campaigns manager for Oceana, told Florida Politics after DiCeglie and Chaney refiled the bills in November that his organization has been working on the issue “for the last few years” and is “optimistic” about its success this year.

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.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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