Senate approves in final reading admin’s bill overhauling local litter laws

fili@samoanews.com

Calling it a long overdue proposed law, the Senate yesterday approved in final reading its version of the administration bill, which overhauls local litter laws, under the Keep American Samoa Beautiful Act, which gives six government agencies enforcement authority and also empowers village mayors to issue citations to persons in their jurisdiction for littering.

However, under the approved Senate version, senators added to the list of agencies the Office of Samoan Affairs, which has jurisdiction over village pulenu’u, who senators believe should play a major role in the enforcement of their villages and jurisdiction when it comes to cleaning them up and issuing citations.

A provision of the proposed law does detail responsibilities of the village pulenu’u but senators believe that by including in the final language, the Office of Samoan Affairs, it will further strengthen enforcement.

According to the Senate approved version, the seven ASG entities with authority to issue citations are Samoan Affairs, American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency (AS-EPA), American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA), Health Department (DOH), Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), Parks and Recreation (P&R), and the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The House has also approved its version of the litter bill, but without any amendments and was sent to the Senate on Monday. However, the Senate amended the House version to include the Office of Samoan Affairs and approved it in second reading yesterday with third and final reading expected today.

SENATE HEARING

Prior to the Senate passing the bill, the Senate Judicial Committee, chaired by Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono held a second hearing on Monday morning on the measure and witnesses called were ASPA executive director Utu Abe Malae and Eastern District Governor, Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, representing the Office of Samoan Affairs.

(The first committee hearing was held last week - see Samoa News edition Monday for details of that hearing).

Utu told senators that the bill is a very important as American Samoa is faced with many imports — such as plastic and other items — and the territory’s size is limited in land size and that means there is no where else to dump all these trash. He says it’s very difficult to change the public’s attitude to clean the island and keep it clean all the time.

He said the territory will be impacted in the future if more enforcement is not done now to “control land debris” which will then become “marine debris”. Utu said the resolution provided in the bill to address litter problem is the enforcement through ASG agencies authorized to issue litter citations.

According to the executive director, the Police Commissioner had testified during budget hearings that Public Safety is “understaffed” and “under-budgeted” and the additional ASG agencies to issue citations will assist DPS in enforcing litter law.

In his testimony, Eastern District governor Alo said the proposed law should have been in place long time ago and Samoan Affairs is supportive of the measure. He suggested including Samoan Affairs Office as one of the agencies involved in enforcement because it’s the village pulenu’u’s responsibilities to keep their respective village clean. “If villages are clean so is the whole territory,” he added.

He also revealed that some residents have dumped their trash in National Park of American Samoa land and Samoan Affairs recently met with National Park officials to find a way to address this problem. He says village pulenu’u should be involved in addressing such an issue.

Soliai says the bill provides details of a 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.

Soliai also explained that DPS plans to conduct thorough training of pulenu’u and employees of other ASG agencies involved in enforcement to ensure that these individuals are certified and know how to issue a citation.

The committee agrees with the full involvement of pulenu’u as they are the ones in the villages and are more aware of what’s happen in their jurisdictions. However, Sens. Tuiasina S. Esera and Avegalio Aigamaua voiced to Alo their concerns that some pulenu’u are not doing their job in their villages.

Alo acknowledged the concern saying that pulenu’u are just like all other ASG employees — they work 8 hours and get paid. He said the concerns would be raised in the next district meetings.

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