Va. lawmakers crack jokes debating balloon bill

WASHINGTON — A bill to boost fines for releasing too many balloons into the air in Virginia may have deflated on Friday, but the debate certainly didn’t.

Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, said his opponents were filled of hot air to debate the bill. He says he’s heard his bill called a “war on plastic”.

He also saw the plastic in his office Friday morning, ahead of the 21-16 vote against the bill.

“I believe in his office this morning he discovered that there might have been 300 balloons … and I do not know who put them there,” Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, said with a smile during the debate.

Although the final bill included an amendment making the fines only apply to adults, it did not stop some dramatizations from opponents of the bill.

“What’s next, ice cream cones?” Stanley asked on the floor. “Are children going to be arrested at birthday parties? Where do we stop?”

“At some point in time we have law enforcement that do very important jobs for us now out on a balloon sting. An undercover balloon sting operation,” Stanley said to laughter from the rest of the chamber.

“They’ll be in an unmarked car, they’ll see a 9 year old, they’ll peg him, ‘Look at that guy, he’s going to go buy a balloon.’ ‘Hey Johnny, I bet he’s going to release it.’”

“And they’re going to camp out right there as he gets off that horse at that birthday party and they’re going to go right into action, spring, and little Johnny’s going to have to bond himself out for releasing a balloon in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Stanley wrapped up.

Sen. Ryan McDougle of Hanover said he used the bill as a reason his daughter could not buy a balloon last weekend as they drove home from the Northern Neck.

“I said darling, I’m sorry that we can’t do that because you’re not going to be able to get all these balloons because daddy might release it into the air and get fined. And I said one of daddy’s friends is actually proposing a bill on that, and she advised me that he was a bad man and I should put him in jail,” McDougle related as his colleagues laughed.

When Stanley asked McWaters what is the top pollutant threatening Virginia wildlife, since balloons are in the top five, McWaters told him it’s something Stanley would know all about – cigarette butts. That elicited oohs and ahhs from the rest of the floor.

The butts of the jokes were not limited Friday to those challenging the bill.

“I’m a little concerned that his legislation will affect birthday parties, the birthday party clown industry, does he have any figures which may indicate that this would adversely affect commerce in Virginia for those that participate putting together birthdays for children in the economic strata that he enjoys,” Stanley asked.

“I have consulted with my friends over on the other side, and they tell me that the clown industry is happy with this bill,” McWaters responded, eliciting winces from others in the chamber.

McWaters says the point of his bill was to educate people, so that they know releasing a balloon into the air is littering, and he says no one should want to be a litterbug.

The current Virginia law allows one person to release up to 50 balloons into the air per hour.

November 29, 2020 | (Marcus Moore)

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