It would be illegal in Montgomery County to intentionally release a helium-filled balloon into the air, under a bill proposed Tuesday.
The bill calls for a fine for someone caught releasing a latex, plastic, rubber or Mylar balloon on purpose. Releasing balloons unintentionally or for scientific purposes would not be prohibited.
Council Member Tom Hucker’s bill is similar to other laws around the country, including ones in Queen Anne’s and Frederick counties, that ban the release of helium-filled balloons into the air.
This month, the state legislature passed a similar measure giving the Maryland Department of the Environment the authority to fine people $250 if they intentionally release a balloon into the air. It was sent to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature.
The goal of the Montgomery County measure is to prevent trash buildup and protect wildlife, Hucker said during a press conference Tuesday with environmental advocates.
“The main problem is that they [balloons] really endanger our precious wildlife. They can drift hundreds of miles in Maryland, we’ve found,” he said.
Hucker said the fine would be $500 for those caught releasing balloons.
“We hope we won’t collect any fines. We hope there won’t be any balloon releases,” he said.
Enforcement, Hucker said, would be based on complaints from witnesses.
“This will likely be enforced by county staff, whether it’s our law enforcement or our Department of the Environment,” he said.
Asked why Montgomery County would have its own balloon ban when a statewide ban might be enacted, Hucker said a local law is needed to enforce violations of state law. He pointed to the example of Maryland raising the legal age for buying electronic cigarettes (or vapes) from 18 to 21 last year, something Hucker has also proposed at the county level.
“Without that [county law], we can’t use our inspectors that go into alcohol establishments to enforce the e-cigarette law if they’re selling to people under 21 unless it’s a violation of county law as well,” he said. “So, you know, people who see an advertisement about a balloon release probably aren’t gonna call the Maryland Department of the Environment. They’re probably not gonna call the Maryland State Police. They’re more likely to call our police non-emergency line and bring it to our attention. So we have to have a fine that’s a civil violation in county law, as well.”
Hucker said if the state balloon ban passes, a person could not receive a double fine for violating both state and county law.
The council will hold a public hearing on Hucker’s bill March 3.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org