Virginians react to balloon release ban taking effect July 1

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Virginians can now face a consequence if they violate one of the new laws taking effect on July 1.

Lawmakers banned the intentional release of nonbiodegradable balloons outdoors. Anyone who violates the new law will have to pay a $25 fine for each balloon released to the Game Protection Fund.

Some people said they’re relieved state leaders are taking steps to protect wildlife, while others said it’s a tradition they don’t want to let go of.

Joan Kark, a supporter of the ban and one who petitioned Virginia Tech to stop their mass balloon release, said harming the environment should be everyone’s top priority.

“If it comes down anywhere birds or wildlife might try to consume it and choke on it,” she said.

As a surprise to some people, Kark said livestock could also consume balloon debris and choke to death. sea turtles can also mistake balloon debris for jellyfish, she said.

“That’s one of the major reasons why people shouldn’t do it,” Kark said.

However, this law could affect outdoor celebrations and prayer vigils where balloon releases have become tradition.

Charles Willis, the executive director of united communities against crime, said families impacted by violence see it as a symbolic way of letting go of grief.

“It really touches me,” he said. “It seems like everything that we as a people are able to grab hold to…and have a sense of ‘woosh it just seems like it’s always being shattered, and knocked down and put down.”

Willis said his organization began balloon releases over two decades ago when he partnered with citizens against crime.

They would always have two balloons and one bow, however one day a balloon slipped away.

“Everyone said ‘hey look, the balloons are going up to heaven’,” he said.

The balloons are now known for comforting those who are grieving as they send off a message to another place, said Willis. Kark is on the other side of the debate as she proposes alternatives to remembering a loved one. She suggested planting a tree, tying a ribbon or kids could even blow bubbles.

“Why would you want to risk danger to wildlife to commemorate someone?” she asked.

Willis believes legislators have more important issues to focus on like gun violence and police reform. He said most of the balloon releases happen in the Richmond area because of prayer vigils.

“As the gun violence decreased, then the need for a prayer vigil would decrease,” he said.

Willis said his organization will adhere to the new law, but he would’ve preferred if lawmakers sat down with families impacted by violence to hear why they hold tight to the tradition.

Willis also suggested a compromise of reducing the number of balloons that people can release outdoors. Previous legislation stated no more than 50 balloons could be released.

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