Small Firms Foil California Balloon Ban

The Save the Balloons Coalition, an organization of more than 20,000 florists, small retailers, grocers, unions and other concerns, has been successful in getting a state lawmaker to scale back his bill that would make it illegal to sell helium-filled foil balloons and instead require more consumer education on the part of balloon retailers.

State Sen. Jack Scott's intentions were good - he offered SB 1499 because he believed that many of California's power outages were caused by these balloons getting caught in power lines. The measure was backed by some utility companies, although bill critics cited the California Public Utility Commission as saying that none of the state's approximately 6,000 annual power outages were caused by foil balloons.

Coalition member The Balloon Council, a group including small retailers, manufacturers and unions, was integral to the effort to temper the bill. The council was formed in 1990 - around the time that several state legislatures were considering measures to outlaw these balloons.

The new measure would increase the fine for the sale of balloons sold without a weight, which keeps them earthbound but floating. The fine would rise from $100 to $250. California firms also will need to comply with new point-of-sale signage warning consumers of the risk if a balloon contacts a power line. Distributors and manufacturers also will be required to enclose a notice with each shipment of balloons into California notifying retailers of their responsibility of the proposed law.

The council said the reworked measure is a "vast improvement." Council Chairman Dan Flynn said of the initial bill that for the "20,000 florists, card stores and party shops that sell balloons across the state, this bill would mean a likely loss of $100 million in balloon sales and the potential loss of $900 million in sales of flowers and other merchandise. And for the state, this bill would compound the budget shortfall by reducing sales tax revenues by an estimated $80 million dollars every year."

The original version of the bill had made it successfully through the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee in late June before it was altered this month.

By Sharon McLoone |  July 18, 2008; 1:14 PM ET
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