Environmental advocates say they’re optimistic about legislation that relates to removing litter, including balloons, from our waterways and oceans.
First, a House committee approved a proposal (HB 321) that would ban the intentional release of balloons.
Balloons pose a serious danger to wildlife, including marine mammals, seabirds, and sea turtles, according to the Ocean Conservation Society. They can be mistaken for food by several marine species, and animals can die from starvation when balloons block their digestive tracts, or when they became entangled in balloon strings.
“There’s no good reason to release a balloon,” Pinellas County Republican Linda Chaney said in introducing her bill. “The release of a balloon is harmful to our environment and harmful to our sea life, and even to our livestock. We have all seen pictures of turtles dying and choking on balloons. Florida is the number one nesting location for the leatherback turtle, and a top nesting area for other endangered species.”
The proposal received backing on Thursday from the Coalition for Responsible Celebration, which represents balloon manufacturers, florists, grocers, and ‘mom and pop’ shops. “It’s possible to enjoy balloons while also protecting the environment,” executive director Maria Stockham told the committee on Thursday.
Violators who intentionally release a balloon are subject to a $150 fine.
Chaney’s bill will now move to the House floor for a final vote. It’s Senate version (SB 602) has also passed unanimously through two committees so far, with one final stop before it reaches the floor of the Senate.
“With today’s vote, the Florida Legislature has taken a massive step forward towards addressing one of the deadliest forms of plastic pollution for our ocean wildlife: balloons and their attachments,” said Hunter Miller, the field campaigns manager for the Southeast for Oceana. “We stand with the diverse coalition of lawmakers and organizations enthusiastically supporting this bill and are hopeful to see it become law.”
In a second piece of legislation, environmentalists are also optimistic about the diminishing prospects of a bill (SB 1126) that would ban local governments from imposing regulations against single-use plastic items like bags, bottles, cups, and cardboard was temporarily postponed.
The measure had passed in one Senate committee but was postponed on Tuesday in the Senate Community Affairs — which is not scheduled to meet again this session.
“Even if it were to be heard, I would expect that there would not be the votes to support it,” says Emma Haydocy, the Florida policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation.
“There was such an outpouring from groups like Surfrider who oppose it because we care about our beaches and our waterways not being clogged with plastic,” she said, adding, “it just seems like there were enough folks on that committee who care about those individual waterways who did not want to see this legislation move forward and were going to vote no.”
As the Phoenix reported last month, Florida is one of at least 19 states that have placed limitations on regulating plastic carryout bags. Thirteen other states have gone the complete opposite way, and now ban the use of plastic carryout bags statewide, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Advocates say the passage of a ban on so-called “auxiliary containers” would only have put Florida further behind.
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: email@example.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.
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