Tuesday, 27 April 2021 17:46

House Transportation Committee passes amended Highway Cleanup Act

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House Transportation Committee passes amended Highway Cleanup Act RO file photo

RALEIGH — A bill to help keep North Carolina’s roads clean has cleared its first committee — with a few changes.


The Highway Cleanup Act of 2021 has passed the House Transportation Committee, according to House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne. But the bill looks different than it did when he filed it Feb. 16.

One major change is the striking of doubling litter-related fines.

Instead, the new version of the bill calls for a study on the effects of fines and punishments for littering by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, with findings, recommendations and legislative changes to be presented during the General Assembly’s 2022 session.

There is also a call for a feasibility study on the implementation of an inmate clean-up program, as well as a report on the effectiveness of NCDOT’s Litter Management System.

During the February 2020 commissioners meeting, state Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, gave “a myriad” of reasons why the price tag for prison labor was so high, including: insurance; the cost of time and overtime for officers who have prisoners “under the gun;” and the equipment.

“The part that we pay the prisoners … is insignificant,” McInnis said. “By the time you add all that other stuff, you can’t work ‘em in certain conditions — there’s more federal bureaucracy than anything else … the private contractors … (are) able to do it significantly cheaper.”

McInnis, who now co-chairs both the Senate Transportation and Appropriations on Transportation committees, is a co-sponsor of the companion Senate Bill 155.

The amended bill also changes the name of the “Cops Clean NC” program to “Detainees Clean NC.”  Under that program, sheriffs’ offices would be eligible for up to $10,000 — out of $1,000,000 set aside by the N.C. Department of Transportation — to oversee detainee litter pickup.

The bill also appropriates $50,000 from the General Fund to the Administrative Office of the Courts “for use by the Conference of District Attorneys in producing education, training materials, and resources for district attorneys across the State regarding the detriments of litter and the need for strengthened enforcement of litter laws.”

The amount of money allocated to “raise awareness and program participation, through marketing and advertising” of anti-littering campaigns, including Adopt-A-Highway, was cut by half from $500,000 to $250,000.

Other changes include:

  • Designating days for roadside cleanup by state employees and encouraging them to use community service leave time to participate
  • Directing the NCDOT to schedule the removal of trash before mowing highway right-of-ways
  • Incorporating litter prevention and awareness into appropriate courses emphasizing the detriment to the environment and personal responsibility in prevention

(See the committee substitute for HB 100 attached to this story.)

Bell’s office says that the “overall bill" has support from the N.C. Department of Transportation and the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. The bill also has more than 60 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond.

“Our state is too beautiful to be covered in trash,” Bell said in a statement. “That’s why a group of us came together in a bipartisan fashion to find ways to address this problem. I want to commend (Transportation) Secretary (Eric) Boyette for his leadership on this issue. Thanks to DOT's hard work and that of individuals and organizations across the state, we are seeing great progress in these efforts. While this legislation will not solve the problem, it will provide additional tools and resources to help keep our roads clean and prevent littering."

NCDOT announced earlier this month that efforts have led to more than 4 million pounds of trash being picked up across the state this year.

The department has promoted the Spring Litter Sweep program and enlisted the help of country singer and North Carolina native Luke Combs to record an anti-littering public service announcement.

“We are extremely appreciative of Secretary Boyette’s efforts to help clean up the trash plaguing our roadways," said primary bill sponsor Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, who is also the chair of the House Transportation Committee. "... this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation is aimed at helping those efforts. With the additional funding for roadside maintenance and trash pickup along with the increased deterrence for littering, I’m hopeful this will help ensure North Carolinians can be proud of their roadways.”

According to recent local solid waste reports, more than 16 tons of garbage have been collected from Richmond County roads since Jan. 1

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

A countywide cleanup originally slated for April 24 was rescheduled due to weather for May 1.