The party's over: Outdoor balloon releases banned under new Hawaii law

Jan. 1—The Legislature in 2021 approved the balloon measure to take effect in 2023 to protect wildlife and marine animals.

A new year and 22 new state laws take effect today, including the establishment of ranked-choice voting for special elections, attempts to clamp down on catalytic converter thefts, stiffer drunken driving penalties and imposition of a $500 fine for the intentional release of balloons outdoors, which will change traditional island celebrations such as graduations.

The Legislature in 2021 approved the balloon measure to take effect in 2023 to protect wildlife and marine animals.

"Many animals are attracted to the bright colors of balloons and mistake them for food, which can cause an animal severe injury or death, " according to Act 141. "Animals are often found entangled in balloon strings and, as a result, are injured or strangled to death. ... No person or entity shall intentionally release, organize the release of, or otherwise cause the release of a balloon inflated with a gas that is lighter than air ... ."

The law makes exceptions for balloons released for scientific or meteorological purposes and on behalf of government agencies or pursuant to government contracts, and for hot-air balloons recovered after launching.

Balloons can still be released indoors without penalty, as long as they remain indoors. And Act 141 states that the outdoor release of multiple balloons at one time shall be considered a single offense.

Here are the other laws taking effect today :—Act 94 changes the driver's license revocation period for a first drunken driving offense from one year to no less than one year and no more than 18 months.—Act 165 requires state legislators and employees to complete mandatory live or online ethics training courses every four years.—Act 47 establishes ranked-choice voting for special federal elections and special elections for vacant county council seats.—Act 283 prohibits elected state and county officials from charging any price or even suggesting a contribution to attend any fundraising event during the annual legislative session or any special session.—Act 169 requires new rules and disclosures for certain nonprofit organizations that make campaign donations. In justifying the measure, the Legislature found that the state's "existing campaign finance laws fail to reveal the source of campaign spending money when the spending occurs by a 501 (c )(4 ) nonprofit organization and the funds they raise through donations are used on campaign expenditures in an attempt to influence elections, " according to language in the new law. "Because the nonprofit organization is not required under existing law to disclose the identity of the donors making the donations for this purpose, there is a lack of transparency that fails to inform the public on who is trying to influence an election."

Unlike 501 (c )(3 ) nonprofits, 501 (c )(4 ) organization may engage in limited partisan political activity.

Act 169 further explains that "there are individuals and organizations that use 501 (c )(4 ) nonprofit organizations as shell organizations to pass through large donations. The legislature believes that requiring 501 (c )(4 ) nonprofit organizations operating as non ­candidate committees to disclose the name and address of donors who make a donation individually or in an aggregate of more than $10, 000, will assist the campaign spending commission in discovering those nonprofit organizations being used to funnel large amounts of funds as donations to influence elections."—Act 159 extends the driver's license renewal period from two years to four years for drivers who are 72 years old but younger than 80.—Act 286 adopts a new Hawaii Code of Military Justice "to promote order and discipline in the state military forces by fostering an independent military justice system and updating nonjudicial punishment and courts-martial procedures."—Act 88 is aimed at limiting thefts of catalytic converters, which are coveted for their rare metals. Thieves, scrap dealers and others who violate the new regulations would be guilty of a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10, 000 fine.

The Legislature found that "catalytic converters contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum, and rhodium, making catalytic converters highly sought after by thieves due to their high resale value. Catalytic converters are essential to motor vehicles, as they remove toxic elements from the exhaust stream, and thus are federally mandated to be installed on a vehicle. A catalytic converter can be stolen in less than sixty seconds, which can cause extensive damage to a vehicle, leading to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in repair costs."

The law requires buyers of catalytic converters to take a photo of the seller, make a photocopy the sellers' valid ID or driver's license and obtain a written, signed statement from the seller certifying they have the lawful right to sell and dispose of any catalytic converter and providing additional details.

In addition to any criminal penalties, scrap dealers who violate any of the new provisions face fines of $1, 000 for the first offense, $3, 000 for the second offense, and a fine of $5, 000 and suspension of the scrap dealer's license for six months for a third or subsequent offense.

Similar new provisions also apply to people selling copper, beer kegs and urns.—Act 15 eliminates the "deferred payment purchase option for cigarette tax stamps " and requires payment in cash or by certified check or bank transfer.—Act 49 requires each county auditor to submit annual records of fireworks and pyrotechnics records to the Legislature, including inventory, record keeping and sales.—Act 56 establishes provisions for peer-to-peer car-sharing insurance coverage.—Act 57 establishes requirements and permitting procedures for transportation network companies, including insurance requirements for companies and their drivers.—Act 58 establishes provisions relating to the care obligation of insurers and producers.—Act 62 amends provisions relating to declarations under condominiums laws.—Act 69 establishes provisions regarding voting for directors under the planned community associations law.—Act 76 amends provisions regarding cooperation between the Department of Taxation and county liquor commissions.—Act 97 creates a statewide "interoperable communications " executive committee and subcommittee for public safety communications and the position of a statewide interoperable communications coordinator. Interoperable communications refer to real-time communications between first responder agencies.—Act 161 establishes an Accessible Parking Special Account within the Disability and Communication Access Board Special Fund. The law increases the state annual vehicle registration fee by $1 and requires that $1 from each annual vehicle registration fee be deposited into the Accessible Parking Special Account.—Act 217 creates provisions regarding withholding of taxes by people claiming motion picture, digital media and film production income tax credits under the general excise tax law.—Act 218 amends provisions relating to the Hawaii Board of Taxation Review.—Act 298 subjects so-called "U-drive " vehicles—or vehicles rented from residents—to the same motor vehicle registration fees as other motor vehicles. The law also authorizes counties to use motor vehicle registration fees to mitigate and address the impacts of tourism-related traffic congestion.