ANNAPOLIS — Many who are interested in politics may know the phrase "All politics is local," a saying championed by former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
This past week, the Maryland Senate floor has been an example of that, as legislation recently passed by the Frederick County Council has popped up in a similar form via a bill introduced by Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard).
The senator's proposal aims to prevent people from intentionally releasing balloons into the atmosphere, except for:
- Balloons used for scientific/weather-related purposes.
- Balloons released by universities and colleges for research.
- Balloons released as part of an agreement with the U.S. government.
- Hot-air balloons that are recovered after launch.
On Tuesday, Lam and Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) debated the bill on the Senate floor. Hough had concerns that the problems Lam's proposal was trying to address were already covered under state littering laws.
But Lam said the bill would help curb pollution statewide, whether on the Eastern Shore or on agricultural land.
"If you look at the Mylar-type balloons ... they can scare livestock and spook livestock," Lam said. "We've also heard instances where balloons land on ... some electrical lines, and because of where they land and the strings, they've shorted out lines."
Hough noted, however, that the state's litter laws assess a $1,500 fine on offenders; under Lam's proposal, there would be a $250 civil penalty, a significant decrease.
Lam said the law is meant to prevent balloon releases and raise awareness, points made by Hagen when he brought the bill before the County Council last year.
After the floor debate Tuesday, Hough said he still had concerns about Lam's proposal, because of the littering law.
"It's already against the law to do all this," Hough said. "What's going to happen is every year, we're going to do a dumping tire bill, a plastic bill, [and] it's already covered. There's no need to pass a different bill every year on something that's already covered."
Lam's bill was again part of a discussion on the Senate floor Thursday, as Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore and Harford) introduced a brief amendment: adding an exception where people under 13 years old would not be penalized.
Jennings said he understood Lam's intent, but it could be hard to control a child's behavior, especially when it comes to releasing balloons.
Lam said he didn't see the need for the amendment, but he also didn't object to its addition. Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George's), chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, asked legislative staff to review the amendment, citing an example where a class of 12-year-olds could release balloons — perhaps an unintended consequence.
Jennings introduced a new amendment Friday that tweaked the wording but did not substantially change its intent. That passed on the Senate floor.
Middletown football team honored in Annapolis
Members of the Middletown High School football team were congratulated by the Senate and House of Delegates on Thursday. Several members of the team filed into the Senate Chamber as Hough introduced the team.
"I'm told they thoroughly defeated Potomac," Hough said, alluding to the team's 34-15 win in December.
Middletown was the second local football team to be recognized this session. Catoctin High School's football team was recognized last month for winning the Class 1A title.