Bill aims to increase max penalty for illegal dumping in Philadelphia

The bill is aimed at businesses that dump illegally because the fines are cheaper than legal disposal fees.

This story originally appeared on 6abc.

Perched in front of his North Philadelphia apartment, Will Letman sees everything – including some things he’d rather not see.

“It would be trash,” he said of the lot across the street from his window. “People would maybe bring trash and use it as a dump site. That’s what it looked like.”

It’s exactly the action Rep. Donna Bullock hopes to prevent with House Bill 95, aimed at littering and illegal dumping.

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“There is no community in Philadelphia, perhaps across the commonwealth, that has not seen illegal dumping,” said Bullock, a Democrat representing House District 195 which encompasses North Philadelphia, Fairmount Park, Strawberry Mansion and other nearby areas.

Bullock’s bill increases fines for illegal dumping, making the maximum penalty up to $20,000.

“The range can go from $300 to $20,000 whereas before it was $300 to $10,000,” she said.

The bill is aimed at businesses that dump illegally because the fines are cheaper than legal disposal fees.

This legislation makes sure that the fines keep up with the times.

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“The penalties we had on the books were too low,” said Bullock.

“If you’re talking about business folks, the best way to punish business folks is to punish them with their pocketbooks,” said Rep. Chris Rabb, a Democrat representing the 200th District encompassing Northwest Philadelphia.

Rabb is co-sponsoring the bill which has made it through the House Judiciary Committee. He says it’s about much more than trash.

“We see there’s a strong correlation between littering, illegal dumping and crime,” he said, adding that the issue is also environmental.

“A couch, used tires, toxins, chemicals,” Rabb said, listing the items often found on local streets.

The Philadelphia Streets Department is increasing resources to address the issue.

“It is one of our top priorities in the Streets Department to address. And we’ve been doing so with the use of enforcement and surveillance cameras,” said Philadelphia Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.

The new bill would be a big backup.

“That is one key to prevention,” said Williams, “holding people accountable.”

If it passes, Bullock thinks the legislation could have an impact on neighborhoods that are disproportionately dumped on, including neighborhoods that are mostly minority.

“(The dumping) goes into the communities that have the least political power,” said Rabb. “They’re not dumping in rich areas! They’re dumping in poor neighborhoods.”

Those areas include the now-cleaned lot across from Letmen’s home. He hopes the prospect of increased fines will deter illegal dumpers from filling the area with junk again.

“That may stop it,” he said.

The bill would also require companies caught dumping to help clean up.

The next step is for the bill to go before the Democrat-controlled full House where it could face revisions before a vote. If it passes, the bill would then head to the Republican-controlled Senate.

In the meantime, Philadelphia’s Streets Department says anyone can report illegal dumping by calling 911 if they are witnessing illegal dumping in the act, and 311 if the illegal dumping has already happened.

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