OCEAN CITY — Legislation introduced in the General Assembly prohibiting the celebratory release of plastic and mylar balloons passed the full House last week and had its first hearing in a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C) introduced House Bill 391 in the current General Assembly session, while Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) introduced Senate Bill 716 on her side of the aisle. The sister legislation would prohibit an individual, association, partnership, corporation, non-profit organization or any other group from knowingly and intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere.
The intent of the legislation is to prohibit the intentional release of balloons weddings, graduations and other ceremonies, which often end up in the ocean or other waterways can cause damage or even death to marine life. House Bill 391 was passed by the full House last week on third reading with a 94-34 vote and crossed over to the Senate.
Senate Bill 716 had its first hearing in Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Carozza testified on behalf of her sister bill.
“The purpose of Senate Bill 716 is to educate individuals on the harmful effects that balloons have on our environment including killing wildlife, causing power outages and polluting our trees and waterways,” she said, adding that she participates in beach clean-ups in Ocean City. “I urge my colleagues and committee members to pass this common-sense and bipartisan legislation to protect our birds, sea life and, or course, our beloved Assateague ponies.”
Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce President Kerrie Bunting, a long-time advocate for prohibiting the release of balloons who originally brought the issue to the attention of Carozza and Hartman, also testified on behalf of the Senate bill on Wednesday.
“While our unique location in the state affords us the unfortunate opportunity to witness birds, fish, turtles, Assateague ponies and seals perish because they eat or become entangled in a balloon and its string, animals everywhere face this possibility,” she said. “Local farmers tell tales of their horses eating the balloon or getting spooked by one and harming themselves. This issue is not specific to aquatic environs. All animals are at risk and litter can happen anywhere.”
Assateague Island Alliance (AIA) Board President Nancy Gaither submitted written testimony for Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing on the legislation.
“Horses have been seen to ingest anything offered to them as they are curious, which is beyond troubling,” she wrote. “The balloons wreak havoc with sea animals. Additionally, balloons that are released can be found in quantities on the beach and our supporters are known for collecting them to dispose of properly.”
Mylar balloons released into the atmosphere can travel hundreds of miles and often land in the waterways, ocean and bays. Marine life often mistakes the balloons for food and the ribbons and strings and so forth can entangle sea life and animals on land. During Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing, Gaither presented a recent picture of Assateague wild horse Alexandria’s Angel with a balloon in her mouth.
Three years ago, a pair of local siblings created Blume’s Balloon Roundup during which fisherman and boaters were encouraged to collect discarded balloons when they came across them in the waterways. The local fishing and boating community embraced the concept and enthusiastically pulled balloons from the water. That effort resulted in over 2,800 balloons being pulled from the ocean and other local waterways.
Similar legislation passed through its respective House and Senate committees last year but died when the session ended abruptly.