Proposed ban on balloons shrivels

Times Staff Writer

A proposed ban on helium-filled foil balloons lost altitude in the state Legislature on Wednesday amid growing opposition from florists, party decorators and other professionals.

The proposal’s chief supporter, Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena), withdrew plans for an outright ban and instead proposed a compromise that would reinforce a state law requiring weights and warnings on helium-filled metallic balloons. His new plan would raise the penalty to $250 from $100 for each violation of the law, whose goal is to curb power outages that can result when such balloons are released and come in contact with power lines.

Speaking Wednesday before the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, Scott also included a provision calling on the University of California to conduct a privately funded study to find an alternative to the foil balloon, made from a tough polyester film known as Mylar or other kinds of metalized substances.

“I realized we had made our point that these metal balloons do represent a danger in terms of causing power outages,” Scott said. “The biggest problem is the economic impact it would have on the sale of balloons.”


Opponents of the bill said a ban would cripple businesses that sell an estimated $100 million in foil balloons and would cost the state $80 million a year in sales tax revenue, based on the nearly $1 billion in sales associated with foil balloons, such as flower arrangements and party supplies.

In 1990, California became the first state to regulate foil balloons by requiring vendors to attach them to weights. Utilities blame the metallic balloons for hundreds of power outages each year in California by short-circuiting power lines.

Under the amended legislation, toys and candy could no longer be used as weights because children are likely to remove them and let their balloons escape, Scott said. Balloon vendors would have to warn customers of the dangers posed by releasing a foil balloon.

The proposed UC study would be paid for by state utilities and the Balloon Council, an organization of balloon manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Any effort to find a replacement for the shiny and metallic material wouldn’t receive state funds.

For the balloon industry, the development was a huge win.

“It was a compromise deal that we’re happy with,” said lobbyist Shane Gusman, who represents the Balloon Council, the ban’s biggest opponent. “It no longer completely outlaws a product that people like and brings a lot of revenue to the state.”

Since February, the bill has worked its way through the Legislature and now awaits further consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t taken a position on the bill.