Calif. Lawmaker Eyes Ban on Foil Helium Balloons
MICHELE NORRIS: Jack Scott is a California State Senator who represents a district that includes Pasadena and Burbank. He chairs committees on education and the state budget, but recently he's taken on a new title: party pooper. That's because Mr. Scott wants to ban helium-filled foil balloons, the ones you see in gift shops and grocery store checkouts that are often shaped like birthday cakes or SpongeBob Squarepants. The problem is those shiny balloons often float into electric lines and cause power outages - lots of power outages, as many as 12 percent of the blackouts in the city of Burbank last year. Merchants that sell balloons oppose the bans. Senator Scott has vowed to keep his measure afloat, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program, sir.
State Senator JACK SCOTT (Democrat, California): It's good to be here.
NORRIS: How big of a problem is this?
State Sen. SCOTT: I found out from Southern California Edison that they had over 400 outages in 2007. Pacific Gas and Electric had about 270. And so all up and down the state, it was very clear that these metallic balloons were causing a lot more trouble than people realized. I tried to fashion a reasonable bill that would say that these balloons could not be filled with helium. They're perfectly all right if they're filled with air, but the problem is that when they're filled with helium and a child lets them go and they hit an electrical line, they often cause outages and even fires.
NORRIS: You know, senator, not everybody likes this idea. At a pro-balloon rally, party planners and merchants that sell balloons paraded an effigy of you made entirely of balloons. And children, I guess, that were part of this protest pounced on this effigy. That's got to sting for a state senator.
State Sen. SCOTT: Well, yes, it is. And, of course, I didn't take on this project in order to create a lot of ill will. And, you know, any time you impact the sale of anything, the profits, people do get upset about it. I wish could come up with some solution. And I wish, frankly, that children wouldn't let the balloons go. But it does happen, and I'm still in negotiations with the balloon people so that maybe we can come up with some kind of compromise by which warnings and some substitute for these balloons can do. You know, I really don't think that the ingenuity of people is such that they couldn't come up with some rather non-metallic balloon that would have the same kind of shiny quality and the same kind of excitement to it that the metallic balloons do today. But we can't go on causing this kind of loss, and there are some ways we can't stop outages. Obviously, lightning in the sky, we can't control that. But metallic balloons we could control if we would just put our mind to it.
NORRIS: Mr. Scott, thank you very much for speaking to us.
State Sen. SCOTT: Sure. I was glad to be on your program.
NORRIS: Jack Scott is a California State senator.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.