PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday on legislation introduced by Representative Susan Donovan. The legislation attempts to protect the environment and wildlife by banning the intentional release of balloons into the air.
Balloons not only pose a significant threat to wildlife, they are a nuisance to commercial fishermen and cause dangerous power outages. Most recently on January 12 of this year, a stray mylar balloon caused a power outage that left over 2.500 customers without electricity.
All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable end up as litter on our waterways and landscapes. Animals, attracted by their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year.
According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 737 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during its statewide cleanup in September 2018. Dead sea creatures continually wash up on our shores, their stomachs filled with plastic debris or bodies tangled in the strings of released balloons.
The bill (2020-H 7261), which is modeled after legislation proposed in New Jersey, would prohibit any intentional release of balloons, except for scientific or meteorological purposes with government permission, hot air balloon launches and indoor releases. Each violation would be punishable by a fine of up to $500 per offense, although releases of multiple balloons at once would be considered a single offense.
The bill has widespread support from environmental groups across Rhode Island and Fishermen’s Associations. Norbert Stamps, who supports the legislation, is Vice President of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, Executive Board member of the Commercial Fishermen’s Research Foundation, Board Member of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine and past president of the RI Lobstermen’s Association.
In 2018, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. Representative Donovan’s bill would not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.