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Jun. 23—The old man in the 2009 Pixar movie "Up" — curmudgeonly Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old balloon salesman who floats his house away to South America beneath a bevy of balloons — would soon be in hot water in Maine.
Legislators this session enacted a new law that makes the intentional release of 16 or more balloons a civil offense with fines that could top $500.
The measure adopted this month, which is awaiting Gov. Janet Mills' signature, aims at reducing the number of latex balloons that wind up harming wildlife and adding to a growing problem of plastics-based pollution.
Beth Ahearn, government affairs director for Maine Conservation Voters, hailed the Legislature's decision.
"When balloons are released, they almost always find their way back down," she said in a prepared statement.
"And when they do, sea turtles mistake them for their staple jellyfish, whales can unknowingly ingest them as they feed, and birds can easily get tangled in the attached ribbons," Ahearn said. "While it's time to create new celebratory traditions, we are pleased by this step by the Maine Legislature to protect Maine's wildlife and environment from balloons now."
It's a move that some states have already made, California, Connecticut and Virginia.
Rep. Genevieve McDonald, a Stonington Democrat who captains a lobster boat, introduced the measure because "people may not realize they are littering and damaging ocean life" when they let balloons fly away "but that is what's happening."
"It's time to define intentional balloon releases as an act of littering so that people know how they are affecting the marine ecosystem," McDonald told colleagues when she introduced the bill this session.
As "a mom to twin toddlers," she said, "I know the anguish that occurs when a balloon slips from a child's grasp."
That's not what the bill targets.
Instead, McDonald said, it aims to "stop organized events from being able to legally release balloons into the air and send a clear message to Mainers that intentional balloon releases are damaging."
Proponents hope that imposing a fine will make people realize they shouldn't release balloons at weddings, birthdays and other events.
If Mills approves the bill, the intentional release of 16 to 24 balloons would bring a first-time offense fine of $100 to $500. Anyone responsible for releasing more than that would be on the hook for a fine of at least $500 under the terms of the measure.
It does not apply to balloons released for scientific or meteorological purposes.