A set of bills dealing with the state’s littering laws will result in thousands of dollars of fines for Rhode Islanders, and thousands of dollars in proceeds for local law enforcement. In May, the ACLU testified before the House Judiciary committee in opposition to legislation (H 8177A) raising the current penalties for a first offense of littering to anywhere between $85 and $1,000. For a second offense, the fines would fall anywhere between $300 and $5,000. The ACLU testified that such an arbitrary and tremendous range gives absolutely no ability to a person facing a littering ticket to know how much in debt they will find themselves when they leave the traffic tribunal. Despite the concerns, both the House and the Senate (S 2721A) approved the legislation in June.
To make matters worse, legislation (H 8279, S 2187), also approved by the House and Senate in June, incentivizes increased ticketing and ticketing for the highest possible fees. This legislation authorizes local law enforcement agencies to receive 30% of the revenue received from littering fines, meaning that local law enforcement stands to receive up to $1,500 from each littering ticket they dole out. The ACLU testified that the decision over what laws to enforce or not to enforce should be based on a concern for public safety, not revenue, and that this legislation flies in the face of that premise.