New law in Virginia makes it illegal to release balloons outdoors

New legislation that goes into effect in Virginia is not full of hot air.

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Beginning Thursday, it will be illegal to intentionally release a balloon outdoors in the state, The Virginian-Pilot reported. People who violate the law will be subject to a $25 fine.

H.B. 2159 was introduced by Del. Nancy Guy, D-Virginia Beach. Its intent is to prevent litter from polluting the state’s waterways.

Latex balloons, foil balloons and plastic ribbons are a top source of litter found on Virginia’s beaches, The Virginian-Pilot reported, citing research from Longwood University between 2013 and 2020.

A previous balloon bill, passed in 1991, made it unlawful for anyone to release 50 or more balloons made of nonbiodegradable material, WRIC reported. Violators were subject to a $5 fine according to the legislation.

“Balloons are often released out of doors to mark celebrations, but too often, they end up clogging our waterways and choking dolphins, birds, turtles, and other wildlife,” Peggy Sanner, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia executive director, said in a statement. “Confining balloons to indoor settings is a simple step that will protect wildlife beloved by our children and keep our waterways running clear and safe.”

Guy said she knew that passing the bill would meet with scorn. In 2015, state Sen. Bill Stanley poked fun at a similar bill introduced by Sen. Jeff McWaters, saying it could lead to “undercover stings” at children’s parties, he Virginian-Pilot reported.

“I had to be willing to take the ribbing even from people I consider my friends,” Guy told the newspaper. “You would think it would be an easy bill when you fully understand it’s a legalized form of littering.”

Birds, turtles and other animals often mistake balloons for food, which can have deadly consequences, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Sea turtles are especially susceptible because they surface to breathe and eat where deflated balloons float on the water, the newspaper reported.

If a person under the age of 16 releases a balloon at the instruction of an adult, that adult will be liable for the fine, according to the new law.

That prompted Stanley to ridicule the bill, asking if police would be “hiding around the bouncy house” in order to write citations, the newspaper reported.

“I don’t think people do these balloon releases out of malice; they do it out of ignorance about how dire these impacts can be,” Guy told The Virginian-Pilot. “By having a statute on the books that makes it subject to a fine, it’s now possible for environmental groups to publicize that fact.”