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EDITORIAL: No choice but punishment vs. S.C. litter
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EDITORIAL: No choice but punishment vs. S.C. litter

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Officials from the state to local levels acknowledge Orangeburg County has a litter problem. A ride around the county will convince you they are right.

Orangeburg County Council Vice Chair Janie Cooper-Smith, who has frequently been outspoken on litter, describes the county's litter problems as “atrocious.”

Another litter warrior, Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, says that despite strong leadership by county council, litter seems to be remaining steady in some areas and getting worse in others.

“I think not enough people see litter as a problem and understand what it says about us as a community,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Until that changes, it really will be more of the same.”

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The leadership being referenced includes getting tougher on litter violators via laws that increase fines (from $500 maximum to $1,000) and making it easier to charge people with littering. Since a new ordinance was passed in late 2017, a total of 1,028 warnings and 700 citations have been issued, with litter citations going up each year.

As much as the root of the problem is people somehow not seeing litter as a problem, even tougher laws have only so much impact.

On a statewide level, the state’s anti-litter organization PalmettoPride says there are about 100 officers dedicated to litter control.

Sarah Lyles of PalmettoPride says, “Law agencies are understaffed from the state level down to the local level.” And a majority of law enforcement officers outside of litter and code officers will not write a litter ticket.

“Or if they do, chances are the judge will toss the case,” Lyles said. “This is changing and we are seeing more judges actively engage in litter enforcement, which is encouraging.”

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To put more focus on what law enforcement can do and help agencies fight litter, Scott Morgan, PalmettoPride’s enforcement program manager, has become a South Carolina state constable. Morgan now will be able to work alongside law enforcement officers assisting in litter cases and illegal dumping cases.

“Working with law enforcement across South Carolina through the past several years, one of the big issues with litter control enforcement constantly coming up in conversation was the need for more litter control officers, but the resources just weren’t there,” Morgan said. “The state constable program will allow me to help fill in some of the gaps at agencies that need assistance with training and litter enforcement.”

Though the task is big for one constable, having him as a direct participant in pushing enforcement of litter laws around the state is another positive step.

“We firmly believe that more enforcement is needed to change behavior that creates litter,” Lyles said. “We want to do all we can to help officers in the field.”

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In the absence of personal responsibility, getting more punitive with regard to litter is essential.

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