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Litter law still in committee as add-on enforcement suggestions reviewed

Government witnesses who testify before a House committee hearing last week on an administration overhauling local litter law all agree that current statute lacks enforcement and the measure provides additional support to assist Public Safety Department in enforcement.

However, the committee has opted to delay moving the bill forward to the full House so that the committee can hold another review this week, after suggestions were made for inclusion in the bill.

Among the witnesses who testified during the one-hour hearing was American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency director Ameko Pato who said the litter issue is not a new one, and that the governor has discussed it will all agencies that were involved — but the problem is enforcement. He said the Public Safety Department needs help in enforcing litter laws, which is the reason six departments and offices are cited in the bill as the ones with authority to enforce the litter laws.

Pato pointed out that while ASEPA has the authority to issue citations on scrap metals, it does not have such authority to issue citations when people litter at places such as the park and other public facilities.

American Samoa Power Authority executive director Utu Abe Malae said he fully supports this bill, which is needed to enforce the litter law, especially considering that DPS is understaffed and under budgeted, and they need the help from other ASG agencies.

Utu also told lawmakers that ASPA doesn’t have a budget for pick up trash along the roads at Lions Park and airport area, but they do this to help keep the community clean. He says government employees are spending time picking up litter.

Additionally, the Island Wide Cleanup Committee has spent time on education and outreach programs, but “we’re weak on the enforcement side” and the bill increases agencies, which would be involved in enforcement.

According to Utu, this bill also affects American Samoa’s future, because “land debris becomes marine debris. Land debris goes into the ocean impacting marine resources.”

Police commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele says DPS supports the bill and it’s long overdue as other agencies will be playing a role in enforcement. However, he says the bill is silent on employees from the designated agencies that will have the authority to issue litter citation and he just wanted to make sure the bill is clear.

For example, the employees of the designated agencies should go through the training and then issue citations. He suggested specifying in the bill the particular employees of that agency, to be given the authority to issue citation after training. He is concerned with such a matter going to court and the person issued the citation challenges the authority of the ASG employee who issued the citation.

According to the bill, six departments and agencies may authorize employees to issue and serve citations to violators, providing that the person has training and experience necessary to perform the job in consultation with the attorney general.

The six ASG entities are: American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency, American Samoa Power Authority, Health Department, Marine and Wildlife Resources, Parks and Recreation and Public Safety.

Another suggestion from Save deals with provision of the bill, which states, “in the case of litter discarded from a moving vehicle, the vehicle may only be stopped by police and the ‘driver of the motor vehicle is responsible for littering violation’.”

Save suggested making this provision clear because the passenger could be the one who threw out the trash and not the driver, who may argue that he/ she didn’t throw out the trash and shouldn’t be responsible for the trash thrown out of the moving vehicle. He suggested including both driver and passenger.

The Office of Samoan Affairs representative at the hearing suggested including their office as one of the six agencies with authority to issue citations. That suggestion drew support from several committee members.

However, the bill provides details of the pulenu’u’s responsibility, which calls for the village major to “regularly and thoroughly” inspect all portions of his/ her village and all other areas within his/ her jurisdiction for compliance. 

The pulenu’u, the bill states, shall have the authority to charge any person within their jurisdiction with failure to comply with the proposed law. And if the matter charged is not punishable by any village regulation, the pulenu’u shall consult the attorney general, who shall take appropriate action.

At the end of the hearing, the committee agreed to take up the bill again this week for review and debate. One of the big issues is whether or not Samoan Affairs should be included as one of agencies with authority to issue citations.