Call it “Don’t mess with Texas, 2.0.”
State lawmakers are so serious about their anti-trash message that they passed a new law this year saying anyone caught littering may need to spend time picking up trash themselves.
“We thought, how can we incentivize this and make it more of an issue for folks?” said state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, who authored the new law known as House Bill 1884. “Not only is [litter] unsightly, and fouls our great state, there’s also a tremendous cost” to clean it up.
“We wanted to try to put more teeth into the law.”
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The new law, which went into effect Friday, lets judges sentence anyone caught and convicted of littering to as many as 60 hours of community service — picking up trash or working at a recycling center in their home county.
And that’s in addition to having to pay fines already on the books for littering.
“I’m sure once people realize they have to do this, it will be an incentive to them to not be repeat offenders,” Anderson said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
If caught littering items that weigh up to five pounds — including biodegradable items such as apple cores — Texans face a Class C misdemeanor. That comes with a fine of up to $500.
But if that trash weighs between five and 500 pounds, which is considered illegal dumping, that’s a Class B misdemeanor, which comes with a fine of up to $2,000 and/or as many as 180 days in jail.
And if that trash weighs between 500 and 1,000 pounds, it becomes a Class A misdemeanor with a fine of up to $4,000 and/or as much as a year in jail.
Those penalties won’t change.
But now, on top of the fines and jail time, a judge can assign community service to litterers.
“Hopefully this will help us reach our goal of trying to help preserve Texas,” Anderson said.
This is one of 673 new Texas laws — touching on issues ranging from allowing Texans to carry long knives, including swords, in public to letting those who win $1 million or more in the lottery remain anonymous — that went into effect Sept. 1.
Too much trash
Texas officials have long told people to put trash where it belongs — in a trash can — and keep it out of public spaces and off roadways.
There have been TV commercials, radio spots, billboards and posters pushing the state’s enduring message: Don’t Mess With Texas.
But clearly that hasn’t worked.
Nearly 1.5 billion pieces of litter were found on the side of Texas roads in 2013 with 435 million pieces of litter — food, receipts, straws, bags, gum wrappers, apple cores, cigarette butts, tire debris — visible to motorists, the most recent state records show.
So far this year, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have issued 426 tickets, and 530 warnings, to motorists across the state. And since 2012, DPS has written 3,044 tickets and 3,643 warnings to Texas motorists, state records show.
But many more tickets are issued by other law enforcers in communities across the state.
A recent study shows nine Texas cities combined, including Fort Worth, spent more than $50 million on clean up, enforcement and prevention.
Fort Worth alone spends about $8.5 million each year on litter and illegal dumping.
More than 300 community service workers since last year picked up nearly 350 tons of trash and debris, code compliance records show.
“We think this legislation will help teach people a lesson they won’t quickly forget and help communities clean up,” Anderson said.
“Requiring those who litter to pick up trash will not only deter re-offenders, it will help keep our roadways and public spaces clear,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who carried the new law through the Senate.
Cleaning up locally
A study released earlier this year — The Cost of Litter & Illegal Dumping in Texas — looked at how nine Texas cities, including Fort Worth, address the growing litter problem.
The report noted that key local concerns include illegal dump sites, sewer/storm water maintenance and litter in general. And it showed some things being done in Tarrant County to clean up the trash.
Here’s a look at a few of those efforts:
▪ There are free drop-off stations where residents may take anything from extra trash to broken furniture. And an anti-litter campaign — “Still Littering — Seriously?” — promotes the use of the stations;
▪ Trash bags are given to homeless people by Fort Worth police, at a cost of about $1,800 a year, to try to stop garbage from building up on city streets;
▪ “Litter Costs You Money” signs are posted by the North Texas Tollway Authority on the Chisholm Trail Parkway; and
▪ The Tarrant Regional Water District has promoted programs such as “Ten on Tuesday,” encouraging people throughout the community to pick up and throw away 10 pieces of trash or recyclables on Tuesdays.
Not only that, but litter is such a local focus that the city of Fort Worth, for instance, spends more than $1.1 million a year for crews to pick up trash discarded in rights-of-way and more than $775,000 a year on storm-water maintenance.
And groups such as Keep Fort Worth Beautiful hold citywide cleanup events and the Tarrant Regional Water District helps sponsor the Trinity River Trash Bash to help keep local water clean.
‘God bless Texas’
The problem isn’t just little or big unsightly piles of trash scattered around in neighborhoods or rights of way.
Some of that trash is swept into streams and lakes, into water supplies and some even to the gulf, creating hazards for a variety of wildlife.
It’s up to us to preserve our state. God bless Texas.
State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco
Not only that, but some of the litter can create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which could develop new hotbeds for problems such as West Nile and the Zika virus.
“This bill is incredibly important,” said Courtney Griffin, communications director for the Texas Heritage Protection advocacy group. “Litter and illegal dumping are incredibly hard problems to solve for many Texas communities, but especially rural communities.
“Often, residents in rural counties fall victim to illegal dumpers. Instead of paying a dumping fee or going through the proper channels, violators will drive out to isolated areas and dump trash, appliances, and other materials in ditches or on properties,” she said. “Property owners will call local officials, and especially in rural places, sometimes officials can’t provide a lot of help because they lack the resources to catch violators or even cleanup the mess.”
Griffin, Anderson and others say they hope this new law will finally force Texans to clean up after themselves.
“It’s up to us to preserve our state,” Anderson said. “God bless Texas.”
Report Texas litterers
There’s a way Texans can report when they see someone littering from a vehicle.
Write down key information — the license plate number, make and model of the car, as well as when and where you saw trash thrown out of the car.
Then go online to www.dontmesswithtexas.org/get-involved/report-a-litterer and send the state that information.
They’ll check to see if there’s a vehicle that matches the description in the Department of Motor Vehicles registration. If they find a match, they’ll send the litterer a Don’t mess with Texas litter bag and a letter asking them to not litter.
Source: Don’t mess with Texas