If you happen to live in Maryland and are planning a children’s birthday party or other outdoor celebration in the near future, you may want to keep an eye on this story. At least if you plan on buying any helium-filled balloons. The senate in the Old Line State has now passed legislation that would criminalize the intentional release of helium balloons. This is ostensibly being done to reduce plastic waste in the oceans and protect marine life. If the House also passes it and Larry Hogan signs off, perpetrators of balloon releases could be facing a stiff fine. (CBS Baltimore)

A bill that would ban balloon releases statewide has passed in the Maryland Senate.

SB28 would prohibit balloon releases in the state except for those used for scientific or government purposes. People who “knowingly and intentionally” organize or take part in balloon releases would face a penalty of up to $250.

This wouldn’t be the first such ban to be made into law. As CBS notes, Queen Anne’s County banned balloon releases last year. A bit to the north of there, Suffolk, East Hampton and Southampton counties, all in New York State, each passed the same type of ban in recent years.

While it may sound rather silly to some people, I’m actually not all that opposed to banning the release of non-biodegradable plastic or mylar balloons. I originally didn’t imagine the number of them reaching the ocean could be all that high, but perhaps it is. Volunteers with a group called Ocean Conservancy claim to have picked up 93,913 balloons from the ocean in a single year. That’s a lot of plastic.

There’s also no question that quite a few species of marine life wind up mistaking balloons for food or getting tangled up in the strings and ribbons that are attached to them. This generally turns out to be a fatal situation sooner or later. While I remain generally annoyed at nanny state policies regulating every aspect of human life, this is an issue that affects everyone eventually, so there’s probably an argument to be made in favor of such regulation.

I understand some of the opposing arguments. Every time we start banning the production or sale of certain products, that industry takes a hit. There are plastic bag companies that are already going out of business because their products are being banned in so many places. But if we’re going to be honest, we’ve been receiving warnings about how bad plastic is for the environment since the sixties and we should have known this was coming. And plastic bags are probably a far bigger problem than balloons.

So will Larry Hogan sign the ban into law, assuming the House passes it? I can’t find any record of him commenting on it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Hogan is a Republican, but he’s not your typical GOP leader. He signed a fracking ban back in 2017 and hasn’t shied away from other eco-warrior issues. If this idea is popular with voters in Maryland, he’ll probably go along with it. (He didn’t get a 69% approval rating by accident.)