Committee Advances Balloon Bill

OCEAN CITY — A bill introduced in the General Assembly to prohibit the celebratory release of plastic and Mylar balloons inched closer to passage this week with a favorable vote in a Senate committee.

Introduced in the House by Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C), House Bill 391 would prohibit an individual, association, partnership, non-profit organization or any other group from knowingly and intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. The intent of the bill is to prohibit the intentional release of balloons at weddings, graduations and other ceremonies.

House Bill 391 was passed by the full House of Delegates on a 94-34 vote last month and crossed over to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee for approval in that chamber. On Wednesday, the Senate committee approved the bill, inching it closer to final approval. A sister bill was cross-filed in the Senate and awaits a final vote by that chamber.

Hartman introduced similar legislation last year and it breezed through a House subcommittee and was headed toward passage. When the General Assembly session last year was cut short amid the COVID outbreak, the bill died on the table as the session expired

During its introduction, Hartman explained the legislation was nearly identical to the bill that came up a little short last year as the session timed out. If approved, it would create a civil infraction with a fine of $250 for each infraction and authorize certain agencies to enforce the legislation.

Hartman, who represents Ocean City and Worcester County, testified during a recent committee hearing about the great distances balloons can travel and the dangers they can cause to marine life when they end up in the ocean or other waterways.

“When a balloon is released, the best-case scenario is it becomes litter,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s much worse. Mylar balloons can travel hundreds of miles for a period of over two weeks. They often land in the waterways, the ocean and the bays.”

Hartman testified how marine life can be impacted by released balloons that end up in the ocean and bays.

“Unfortunately, these are often confused as food for sea life and the ribbons and so forth can cause entanglement,” he said. “The outcome is often fatal for marine life.”

The Maryland Farm Bureau is also supporting the legislation because of reported impacts on livestock and equipment when the balloons land in rural areas.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.