After airing of concerns, Legislature bans intentionally releasing balloons

chaney
‘Sometimes we need to change our traditions when we learn (what we’re doing does) harm.’

Florida residents and visitors will do well to start holding their balloon strings a bit tighter in July, lest they get fined for being litterbugs.

Lawmakers approved a bill (HB 321) to reclassify the intentional release of balloons as noncriminal littering, an offense that carries a $ 150-per-violation fine.

The measure, which cleared the House on a 102-9 vote, will delete a section of Florida Statutes allowing the intentional release of nine helium-filled balloons per day. It will also nix allowances for so-called “biodegradable” and “photodegradable” balloons that still present environmental dangers.

Children 6 and younger are exempt through an amendment St Petersburg Sen. Nick DiCeglie, the bill’s sponsor in the Legislature’s upper chamber, added Monday. Hot air balloons recovered after launch are also excused.

The bill’s lack of an educational component, however, drew criticism from Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart, who reiterated concerns about how it could disproportionately affect the Black community.

Hart said releasing balloons to honor deceased loved ones is a common tradition among Black people, who she worried could feel the brunt of the bill’s penalties unless they’re properly informed of the change.

“That’s my greatest fear,” she said. “I love the environment. Please don’t get me wrong. I do. But I also love my people more than having them fined.”

She also expressed disquiet over a potential snowball effect the bill will have if the fines go unpaid.

“At what point does this turn into some form of a criminal offense?” she said.

St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney, the bill’s sponsor, said she’d given a Florida funeral home association — there are several — informational “language” to pass onto its members, which in turn will inform their clientele.

“I’ve asked that you help me notify the NAACP about that to address that other piece of your concern,” Chaney told Hart. “That’s the education that I’m pursuing, and I hope other members will do the same.”

Addressing the full chamber, Chaney added, “I would just encourage you to join me in helping change the culture … to celebrate in a less harmful way.”

St. Johns County Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson agreed, but empathized with Hart. She said a member of her family died on his 18th birthday, and for years they released balloons at the beach to honor his memory.

After learning of the damage balloons have on wildlife, Stevenson said, they switched to throwing flowers in the surf.

“Sometimes we need to change our traditions when we learn (what we’re doing does) harm,” she said.

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.

“Florida made the right call today in banning intentional balloon releases. Balloons are one of the deadliest forms of plastic pollution for ocean wildlife,” said Hunter Miller, field campaigns manager for the international ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana.

“It’s great to see state legislators from both sides of the aisle come together to support a commonsense bill and get it passed. We call on Governor DeSantis to quickly sign this into law.”

Hart voted “no” on the bill. So did Democratic Reps. LaVon Bracy Davis of Ocoee, Ashley Gantt of Miami, Patricia Hawkins-Williams of Pompano Beach, Angie Nixon of Jacksonville, Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg and Susan Valdés of Tampa, as well as Republican Reps. Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven and Patt Maney of Shalimar.

The bill will next float to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, where he can either sign or ignore it and let it become law, effective July 1, or veto it.

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.


6 comments

  • Linwood Wright

    March 5, 2024 at 10:17 pm

    Well I guess I can now count on one finger the number of things this legislature has done that I agree with.

    • Hung Wiil

      March 5, 2024 at 10:43 pm

      Pull your finger out.

      • Christina Pooshaw 💩💩💩

        March 6, 2024 at 3:02 am

        Hey willie, maybe your fentanyl is easy to get in florida and cocaine is legendarily available but somehow, someway, your LEOs will be able to control balloons.

        You’re another problem Christian down there, so not surprised you hate anything outside of a Swanson TV Salisbury Steak Dinner. Cun+

  • DumAzFuk in FL

    March 6, 2024 at 5:11 am

    Yessir! Best legislature around?
    1. High property taxes? Shut up. Move.
    2. High electricity rates while CEO’s make highest salaries ever? No problem. Don’t like it? Move.
    3. Afraid to vote because of a previous arrest? No Problem. Move!
    4. Tired up a Governor that only deals with laws that effect his donors? No Problem. Move
    5. Republican party having 3ways – No problem.

    Take your god damn balloons with you when you move.

  • Lex

    March 6, 2024 at 8:10 am

    Wish we could find more instances where common sense could prevail and everyone could agree to do the right thing. I get that this could have been a nice tradition for a lot of people. I also get that at best it is like throwing your trash out a car window and at worst it can needlessly kill animals. The upside is not worth the downside and I think most reasonable people can see that if they slow down to think about the down the road consequences of their actions. Too bad people in general and especially on the Left do not think about the unintended consequences of bills more often.

    • rick whitaker's

      March 6, 2024 at 2:07 pm

      lex, your generalized, ” people on the left ” comment says alot about both your temperament and your intellect. you are probably a white christian nationalist, so i understand why you say the things you say. good luck with that maga madness cult.

Comments are closed.


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