Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton didn't expect he'd have trash on his mind during a nine-day 230-mile walk in 2002.
But as he walked from Jackson to Jefferson City, he noticed the state has a major litter problem.
"There was just a ton of litter along our roads," Jetton said. "Litter is a serious problem in our state, and we must take it seriously."
That's why Jetton hopes to curb Missouri's growing litter problem with legislation he filed this week to change the penalties for littering.
Jetton's proposed legislation would require offenders to perform 40 hours of community service and pay a penalty fee of $600. Under current law, littering is defined as a class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to a year of jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.
"If you travel through other states, they are a lot cleaner than we are," Jetton said.
Missouri's Department of Transportation spends more than $6 million each year to clear litter from along the highways, Jetton said.
"If we can find a way to reduce the amount of litter, we can redirect that money for more useful purposes such as beautification projects," he said.
Jay Purcell, Cape Girardeau County 2nd district commissioner, supports the proposed litter bill.
"Anything we can do to increase the penalties on littering is a good thing," Purcell said. "The problem is these things happen every day, but they rarely get reported."
Jetton believes the bill would give law enforcement officials more incentive to prosecute litter offenders.
"My hope is that we create penalties substantial enough that people will think twice before tossing trash on the ground," he said. "However, if Missourians and visitors insist on littering, we can at least use the money we collect from their crimes for a good purpose."
House Bill 2106 awaits consideration by the House. The bill has bipartisan support, with nearly 80 co-sponsors.
335-6611, extension 246