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Senators call for non-police personnel to be thoroughly trained to issue litter citations

Senators have called for pulenu’u and employees of government entities that will be enforcing a proposed overhaul of current litter law to undergo thorough training with the support of the Public Safety Department.

Current law gives police the authority to issue litter citations, but the Administration is concerned with the lack of enforcement and has included six ASG entities, whose employees will have the authority to issue citations at areas such as public parks, in villages, roadsides and bus stops.

However, the authority to issue a litter citation on the highway remains with police, in accordance with current law.

A provision of the bill gives village pulenu’u the ability to issue litter citations in their respective villages, but Sen. Soliai Tuipine, who is also the committee chairman, recommended to the ASG witnesses that DPS thoroughly train pulenu’u, have them qualified and certified so that the court would accepted citations they issue.

He says the same training should be conducted for employees of the six agencies tasked with issuing citations. Soliai stressed the importance of making sure that the court does not throw out citations due to the lack of training and certification of these individuals.

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale informed senators that there were discussions held with the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency and the Governor’s Office pertaining to the various provisions of the bill.

Additionally, the success of the bill, if it becomes law, depends on “all of us working together” with the Department of Public Safety when it comes to enforcement. He also says there will be a planned meeting — once the bill is enacted into law with the Police Commissioner and all departments involved with litter, focusing on the area of enforcement.

According to the bill, six ASG entities will be involved in carrying out provisions of the measure when it comes to enforcement — which involves the issuing of litter citations.

Among the agencies to issue litter citations is the Health Department, whose director Motusa Tuileama Nua told senators that the list of agencies allowed to issue litter citations is all lumped together instead of designating agencies to areas to enforce the litter law. It’s just like the enforcement of non-smoking in government facilities, it’s difficult to enforce.

He believes the bill should have made clear this issue to ensure there is no confusion among the agencies. For example, which agencies are to issue litter citations in public parks.  Soliai interjected and reminded Motusa that this is an administration bill, which is important for the fact that many agencies are involved in enforcement.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said he agrees with Motusa’s concern. For example, ASEPA would issue a citation to one family and DOH would issue a citation to the same family with the same problem and that is double jeopardy.

Magalei’s second concern is the bill gives the court the authority to not only impose a fine — as outlined in the bill — but also community service to the violator. For example, for the first offense, the violator could be fined in addition or in lieu of 4 hours of community service, which would be to pick up and remove litter from public places, including streams and the seashores.

Talauega explained that the bill’s focus is mainly on littering and does not target trash already piled up at a family home, as there are already agencies with this responsibility. The proposed law targets those who are involved with the “act of littering”, he said.

On Magalei’s concern with “double jeopardy”, Talauega says the discretion rests with the court when it comes to citations presented to the court as well as fines along with community service.

And if there comes a time that a family has been cited by more than one agency for the same violation, all citations are presented to the court, which then the court makes the determination as to which citation stands, he said.

Responding to more questions from Magalei, Talauega said there would be a certain number of employees in each agency who will be trained on the provisions in the proposed law and DPS will be involved with the training.

He emphasized that the additional agencies listed in the bill giving them authority to issue a litter citation is to help out police, which has a lot of other responsibilities in protecting the safety of the community. He said DPS is already faced with a manpower shortage, as well as funds, which was raised during FY 2017 budget hearings.

While supportive of the bill and its good intention, Magalei said that another one of his concerns is that “our people” when given the power, it will be abused.

The Senate committee however didn’t make a decision on the bill because they need to hear testimonies from the Office of Samoans Affairs, which has jurisdiction over pulenu’u and the American Samoa Power Authority, which is one of the six ASG agencies given the authority to issue citations.

Another hearing on the bill is set for 8:30a.m, today, Monday, Sept. 19, and senators are hopeful that Samoan Affairs and ASPA officials will attend.