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).

Lam's bill, Senate Bill 28, is similar to a proposal brought forth by Councilman Kai Hagen (D). Hagen's bill passed in a 5-2 vote in December.

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.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(14) comments

KellyAlzan

Does anyone have any data on how many balloons got sucked up in the tornada yesterday?

HappySeller2014

Number and names being witheld until next of kin notified. It is not easy finding Papa Goodyear blimp in February in these part...he is probably hanging out in Tempe or Santa Fe.

KR999

It doesn't appear anyone does, Plumbum.

HappySeller2014

If this bill passes, it should supercede Kai's here in Frederick County. I am excited. If the state says kids under age 13 are exempt from potential deliquency and arrest, who are we in Frederick County to disagree?

My kids will be abe to enjoy their chilhood more, at least until age 13. Since they are all under age 12, if one gets arrested at Cunningham Falls for a massive balloon release, can I appeal to a state judge?

Poor fish, sea turles and gulls. They could care less the age of the balloon releaser. But, per Annapolis, it will now be acceptable for pre-teens to devestate our wildlife, just not teenagers and adults. Our poor kids!

This sure puts a new twist on the old saying "getting away with murder" by those of us who should know better!

HappySeller2014

Yep, trying to control what 13 year olds can and cannot do is the legislative busness of the day in Annapolis.

Litter and harm to animals does not discriminate between those older or younger than age 13. But elected officials do.

If bill passes with this amendment, should I send my kids, ages 11, 9 and 6, out to buy every balloon up in Frederick County this weekend to orchestrate some massive balloon releases over the summer before they turn old enough to break this law?

Asinine what our legislative officials do with valuable, fleeting time in Annapolis. Hey, any parents out there...right before you get busted, just hand off the balloons to little Billy or Sally riding in the red wagon!

HappySeller2014

Yes!!! We are back to dead ballon carcasses! The gift that keeps on giving.

So what is being legislated in Annapolis to help the ordinary Joe like me and thousands of my fellow county neighbors?

...bird chirping...crickets...

mgoose806

I surprised the Karen Lewis Young isn't in the middle of this discussion. Between supporting anything that will get her a sound bite or in print, she has a lot of "hot air" to fill any size "legal' balloon.

public-redux

You managed to make a point and then refute yourself in a mere two sentences. Impressive.

HappySeller2014

That is the most personally introspective about face in 40 words I have ever seen on these FNP boards in my lifetime.

KellyAlzan

This is so ridiculous, and Hough is so’right.

What I see here is a Senator with nothing else to think of for this year’s session so he runs with stupid bills. We have very broken MHIC laws that are very outdated. Why not put the energy into something that could truly help Marylanders, especially senior citizens?

Alice Jones

Instead of always complaining, how about using that energy towards something constructive?

HappySeller2014

YES! I agree. How about stopping the complaining about the massive balloon releases by those over age 13 and actually legislating something that will help us Frederick County folks!

KellyAlzan

Please???? I’ll buy you a balloon......

KellyAlzan

How bout we have breakfast together tomorrow after church?

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