Virginia Is On Its Way To Banning Balloon Releases
Date: February 22, 2021 09:28PM
Intentional balloon releases could soon be banned in Virginia, now that state lawmakers have approved a new law that would fine people $25 dollars per balloon. The bill will go to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk next.
The penalty would apply to people aged 16 or older and would cover the release of any nonbiodegradable balloons. Current law in Virginia already prohibits the release of 50 or more balloons per hour.
The new Virginia legislation is the latest in a regional push to stop balloon releases, a move backed by conservationists, environmentalists, and shoreline residents who want to see a reduction in litter. Scientists say balloons pose a particular threat to wildlife on East Coast beaches; they can get caught in sea turtles’ throats and their strings can get wrapped around turtles’ flippers and necks.
The practice is already banned in Montgomery County where it comes with a $750 dollar fine. Last year, Maryland’s state legislature also approved legislation that would fine people $250 dollars for intentional balloon releases.
It remains unclear how these law will be enforced or whether they will stop the practice of releasing balloons, which many people do at both vigils and celebrations.
During the Virginia Senate’s debate over the bill, Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) wondered aloud if police would be “hiding around the bouncy house” to spy on suspecting balloon-releasers.
Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) responded that police would not be doing this — and the effect of the bill would be to raise awareness about the issue of releasing balloons outdoors, which she sees as a form of littering.
Maryland State Senator Clarence Lam, who sponsored Maryland’s version of the balloon release ban, also acknowledged last year that enforcement would be difficult. But he said there was still value to these laws, which are similar to anti-littering laws.
“It is against the law to just toss your trash out the window,” Lam told WAMU. “Some people still do it. They could potentially get caught, often times they don’t, but at least there’s that deterrent there to make sure people think twice.”
The Balloon Council, a national balloon trade group, told WAMU last year that while it supports efforts to stop people from doing balloon releases, it does not support outright bans.
“It’s a slippery slope from a release ban to banning the product altogether,” Lorna O’Hara, the council’s executive director, said at the time.