Senate unanimously approves Fortunato’s ‘Welcome to Washington,’ litter control bill

On the final day to pass bills that originated in the state Senate, lawmakers gave unanimous approval to a bill sponsored by state Sen. Phil Fortunato to clean up Washington’s littered highways.

Known as the “Welcome to Washington Act,” the bipartisan measure, Senate Bill 5040, would prioritize litter control on state highways and require coordination between the various state agencies overseeing cleanup, including the Department of Ecology, Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol.

“Traveling a lot for work, I notice our roadways are a mess,” said Fortunato. “There are bumpers and tires, sometimes even couches on the side of our highways. Heck, you could almost furnish a house with what you find. When you come into Washington from Oregon, there is big, beautiful sign that says, ‘Welcome to Washington,’ and you’re greeted with trash on the highway.”

The cleanup utilizes the little-known litter tax that exists on products considered proximate to the litter problem, such a beer cans, household paper products or glass containers. Fortunato’s bill would direct the state Department of Ecology, which manages distribution of the litter-tax funds, to prioritize them for state highway cleanup.

The increased coordination under the proposal means the agencies would step up anti-litter public awareness campaigns and emphasize enforcement against litterbugs by the State Patrol.  In addition, the measure would permit inter-agency cooperation during road work or maintenance to conduct debris pickups.

Local governments would also be eligible for financial help under Fortunato’s legislation for doing their part. Senate Bill 5040 would allow jurisdictions to apply for reimbursement related to litter control activities on state highway ramps in their localities.

“This simple proposal gets these agencies to communicate with each other and use their resources to keep our highways beautiful and protect our environment,” Fortunato said.