Senate bounces balloon ban back to House after buoyant banter, exemption for kids
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 5/5/23-Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, urges the Senate not to concur with the changes made by the House to Senate Bill 714 dealing with vacation rentals, Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. The Senate agreed with DiCeglie and in doing so killed the bill for the 2023 session. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

‘I do think this debate has gotten a little carried away.’

Legislation that would ban the intentional release of balloons in Florida and punish doing so as littering is floating back to the House after the Senate amended and approved it.

The bill (HB 321) cleared the chamber by a 38-2 vote after eliciting airy repartee from lawmakers who adopted an amendment by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Nick DiCeglie to exempt children ages 6 and younger — more specifically, their parents — from punishment.

The updated measure will now bounce back to the House, where St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney can either further amend the bill or put it up for a final vote.

HB 321 and the Senate companion (SB 602) DiCeglie carried would delete a section of Florida Statutes allowing the intentional release of nine helium-filled balloons per day. It would also get rid of an allowance for so-called “biodegradable or photodegradable balloons,” which Chaney said aren’t truly safe for the environment.

Any outdoor release of balloons except for hot air balloons recovered after launch would be considered littering, a noncriminal offense with a $150-per-violation penalty.

“We’re trying to eliminate the extensive litter of balloons,” DiCeglie said Monday before the Senate vote. “I think we’ve all been (to) parties and events where we’ve released balloons without thinking twice about it. There are some consequences to that, whether it’s marine life, whether it’s cattle in the center part of our state. We’re trying to create some accountability … and it’s my belief that this bill will accomplish that.”

Numerous environmental groups, as well as the Florida Retail Association and Florida Cattlemen’s Association, backed the legislation this year. Hunter Miller, field campaigns manager for Oceana, told Florida Politics his organization has worked 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. That’s more than 31,000 balloons per year.

Several of DiCeglie’s peers tried to pop what little tension there was in the chamber by joking about the bill. Democratic St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson asked if the proposal included a diversion program for first-time offenders. Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry inquired about the legality of showing the 2009 Pixar film, “Up,” if the bill becomes law.

In a cavalcade of puns to further lighten the mood, Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess said, “I do think this debate has gotten a little carried away. I was floating the idea of amending on third reading; however, I think the concerns are a little overblown, and this year I will be voting up.”

To that, Hollywood Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo — who sponsored a similar proposal with Chaney last year that died without a hearing — said DiCeglie should further amend the measure to establish Burgess as Florida’s “official cheese.”

On a more serious note, West Palm Beach Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell said he was concerned about the lack of an educational component of the bill, which could lead to residents being punished for activities the state previously allowed.

He noted that it is customary among some to release balloons during a baby shower, funeral or “other celebratory activity.” Last month, Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart told Florida Politics that was the reason she cast the sole “no” vote for the bill when it first cleared the house. She said that releasing balloons, particularly in remembrance of loved ones, is a popular aspect of Black culture and that similar attempts to ban the practice in other states like Louisiana failed partially or wholly for that reason.

Republican Sens. Doug Broxson of Pensacola and Joe Gruters of Sarasota voted against the bill, but neither argued against it on the floor before the vote.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart suggested that lawmakers advocate for releasing butterflies instead of balloons.

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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