County Council Adopts Balloon Bill

It would prohibit the intentional  release of helium-filled balloons into the air.


Frederick, Md (KM) Legislation to prohibit the intentional release of helium-filled balloons into the air was approved Tuesday by the Frederick County Council.

The bill would make it unlawful any person or persons to knowingly and intentionally release helium-filled balloons into the atmosphere. The only exceptions would be balloons released on behalf of the State of Maryland or the US government for scientific or meteorological purposes; hot air balloons as they are usually recovered after they land; negligent or unintentional releases of balloons; and pilot balloons which are released by hot air balloon pilots for determine condition such as wind speed or direction.  Violators could face fines of up to $250.

Prior to the vote, the Council heard from Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who urged the panel not to adopt this ordinance. He said it would be difficult to enforce, like a lot of other laws on the books. “A monetary fine is not going to be a deterrent to the release of balloons because if an individual or a group or an organization or an event is going to release balloons, $250 is not going to deter them,” he said. “We know that because it doesn’t stop speeders, it doesn’t panhandlers and it doesn’t stop noise violations.”

Councilman Kai Hagen, who sponsored the bill, said people will respect the law and abide by it once they know it’s on the books. “My guess is that if you never enforce it all, and they’re no citations, that most people will respect the law,” he said. “And that the majority of those balloon releases will just simply not happen and it’s part of a public statement and it’s part of a public education and it is against the law.”

Instead of an ordinance, Sheriff Jenkins asked the Council to approve a statement urging citizens not to Intentionally release these balloons into the air.

Supporters of the legislation say the debris from these balloons fall on the ground and end up in wooded areas where wildlife often mistake it for food. The Sheriff says he’s never seen that happen. “As much as I’m outdoors, hunting, fishing, cornfields, woods, ponds, I’ve never seen a balloon laying in the woods, in a creek, in a pond. Never seen an animal fish of fowl trying to eat one. Is it that big a problem? I would say it’s not,” he says.

But Councilman Hagen disputes that. “Despite your anecdotal evidence that you’ve never it  seen any while out hunting or walking in the woods, well, I have. A lot of other people I’ve talked to have. We know that everything that comes up comes down, They definitely come down by the thousands,”: he said.

The vote to pass the legislation was 5-2 with Council members MC Keegan-Ayer and Michael Blue in opposition. Keegan-Ayer says she understands Councilman Hagen’s feelings on this issue, but believes the ordinance is difficult to enforce. “I personally cannot vote for this bill. And I find it a little odd because I’m not always on the side of the Sheriff. But on this one, I’m going to have to side with him because I don’t like passing legislation that’s technically unenforceable,” she said.

Councilman Steve McKay said having this law on the books could discourage people from intentionally releasing balloons into the air,and reduce litter when the debris falls to the ground. “We have a lot of laws on the books that we have difficulty or inability to enforce,” he said. “But if it does influence some behavior, if it does reduce some littering, then I’m going to go along with it.”

In other action, the Council unanimously approved a bill to allow SCUBA diving facilities in areas zoned mineral mining.


By Kevin McManus