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City Council approves watered-down anti-littering ordinance

Updated: September 11, 2013 12:33PM

Motorists who dump their trash on Chicago streets would pay hefty fines–and risk losing their wheels—under a watered-down crackdown approved by the City Council Wednesday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s blessing.
Emanuel signed off on the controversial anti-littering crackdown after its sponsor, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), agreed to soften the ordinance considerably.
Instead of towing every vehicle used for the driver version of fly-dumping, Chicago Police would have the “discretion” to tow. They wouldn’t have to penalize every single litterer.
And instead of dramatically increasing the fines—to $1,500-a-pop—Brookins agreed to raise the minimum fine from $50-to-$150. The maximum fine would be $1,500, but that would not be the penalty for every trash-dumping motorist.
With those changes, Emanuel signed off on an ordinance that appeared to be going nowhere, paving the way for Wednesday’s full City Council vote.
“Many tourists come to our city and marvel at how clean it is but we all know it can be cleaner,” Brookins said before Wednesday’s vote.
“If you have refuse in your car, keep it in your car until you find the appropriate receptacle. You will not be fined. Your car will not be towed.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) called the driver version of fly dumping a “scourge on our community.” He acknowledged critics who contend the ordinance is “overly punitive.” But, he said, “You choose to throw chicken bones out your window.”
Vehicle impoundment—and the hefty towing and storage fees that come with it—has become a catch-all penalty for an array of offenses ranging from prostitution to loud music playing and curfew violations.
Brookins, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, has said he agreed to replace the towing mandate with, what he called “permissive towing” after discussions with the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, which is responsible for towing.
“They raised some concerns that, if this thing were significantly enforced, they wouldn’t have the manpower to tow all of these cars. It made sense to give law enforcement discretion,” Brookins said.
“Just like seatbelt enforcement and certain places where they do speed traps, we can convince the Police Department to do enforcement- specific missions with respect to littering and, at least during those missions, we can convince the Police Department to tow the car.”
As for the reduced fines, Brookins said, “A lot of my colleagues who were uncomfortable with a mandatory minimum of $1,500 will be okay with increasing the minimum and raising the maximum.”
Earlier this year, Jeff Baker of the Committee for a Better Chicago, warned the City Council’s Finance Committee that Brookins’ original anti-littering ordinance would have given police “another tool to demonize, imprison and punish black men.”

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