Frederick County Council members expressed mixed feelings regarding proposed legislation that would ban the intentional release of balloons Tuesday.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D), the sponsor of the bill, said it was inspired, in part, by the Queen Anne’s County Board of County Commissioners passing a similar ban in a 5-0 vote in August.
In an interview before Tuesday’s meeting, Hagen said the legislation is designed to reduce mass balloon releases seen at large gatherings.
According to this proposal, up to a $250 fine could be assessed against anybody who “knowingly and intentionally” releases or organizes the releases of any balloons unless they are biodegradable and photodegradable. Hagen said at Tuesday’s meeting that he is considering removing “biodegradable” from the bill.
“This legislation is not designed to have anything to do with inadvertent releases of one or two or three balloons at a birthday party or the fair,” Hagen said.
The bill also provides exceptions for government agencies that release balloons for scientific or weather-related purposes.
While Hagen said he understands some people might think his proposal addresses a small problem and would be difficult to enforce, he emphasized that plastics, including those from balloons, pollute the air and are bad for the environment.
“If I were to walking down the street or driving my car or having a party in a park, or anything else, it would be against the law for me to litter thousands of pieces of plastic in the park, along the road, anywhere, and I wouldn’t be considered a good citizen for doing it,” Hagen said. “And yet somehow, if you send it up first, [and] distribute your litter across forests and farms and communities throughout Frederick County and beyond, it’s OK? ...
“I would just ask those people, why is it OK to litter up instead of down?”
Some council members, however, questioned the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilman Steve McKay (R) said it gave him “great heartache” to consider adding another county law that would be difficult to enforce.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) shared that view. Blue said he appreciated Hagen’s introducing the proposal, but would rather see more awareness of the issue than another law.
“I would rather see you educate than legislate,” Blue told Hagen.
Hagen said multiple times in the discussion the law’s main goal was to discourage mass balloon releases from schools, sports teams, and other businesses and organizations. At one point, McKay suggested drafting more specific language related to mass balloon releases.
Some seemed supportive, including Councilman Jerry Donald (D) — who asked if Hagen’s proposal was, in part, to raise awareness. Hagen said it was.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) said his only objection was removing “biodegradable” but later added he would be open to voting “yes” if “photodegradable” were left in, which Hagen said he would research.
Hagen said even though it might be difficult to enforce, the law itself would deter pollution due to mass balloon releases.