Chances are, you can’t drive down any street in your neighborhood without being confronted by this issue: litter. New Hampshire is famously picturesque, but it seems many are intent on changing that given the number of discarded cans and fast food bags strewn along our roadsides. Now, some legislators in Concord say it’s time to increase the penalties for littering, and they’ve introduced two bills to do just that: HB 1461 and HB 1571. Still, some say the legislation goes too far.
New Hampshire’s litter laws
There are two different areas of New Hampshire law that forbid littering, RSA 265:102 and RSA 163-B. Most littering offenses are treated as a violation, subject to a $62 fine. More serious littering involving hazardous materials or large quantities of trash can be a misdemeanor. If you throw litter out of a car, truck, or boat, you can get your license suspended for up to seven days. A judge can also order a person to clean up what they dumped.
Towns sometimes pass their own litter laws imposing heavier fines.
Proposed changes to litter law
Legislators introduced two bills this year to increase the fine for littering.
First, HB 1461 would fine litterers a minimum of $300 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense. Any third or subsequent offense would cause the suspension of the person's driver’s license for 90 days. That last part was too much for some legislators on the House Transportation committee that considered the bill. They are recommending the full House amend the bill and drop the part about a 90-day suspension.
Second, HB 1571 would increase the fine for littering by 20% and send this new revenue to the Fish and Game Department to support conservation officers. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is recommending the full House kill this bill because the estimated one-time costs to implement the bill (about $75,000) would eclipse any new revenue from fines (less than $5,000 a year).
The bigger fine increases in HB 1461 would more quickly cover the one-time costs to update state systems. According to the fiscal note on HB 1461, the state issued 170 fines for littering in 2020 and 244 fines in 2019. If each of those violations carried a $300 fine, the state would generate $124,200 in two years, more than enough to cover any system updates.
Advantages and Drawbacks
Increasing the fine for littering across the state would give sharper teeth to the state’s litter laws. Given the prevalence of rubbish along New Hampshire’s roadways, some folks argue that small fines just aren’t getting the job done. Instituting these substantial fines might be enough to make would-be litterers think twice before hurling that empty soda bottle out the car window. It might also encourage officers to enforce litter laws more frequently; it’s hardly worth stopping a motorist for a $62 fine.
Then again, some argue police officers should not be focused on litter enforcement. A stricter litter law could lead to more hostile interactions between officers and the public. Others favor a positive approach to the issue, such as education campaigns, more public trash receptacles, organizing litter collection crews, and more.
Another alternative would be a bottle deposit law, which creates an incentive for people to return their bottles to designated receptacles instead of tossing them. HB 1652, another 2022 bill would do just that. The state could also ban or limit distribution of some commonly littered items, like plastic bags or straws. Yet another 2022 proposal, HB 1119, would allow towns to regulate the distribution of single-use plastic and paper bags to customers. Both of those bills have their own heated debates; we’ll save the pros and cons for another article.
Update 2/16/22: The House killed HB 1571, but voted to pass HB 1461 (with the license suspension removed).
If you have an opinion on the state’s litter laws you can reach out to the legislators who represent you and let them know where you stand. Get started by visiting our elected official pages.