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September 11, 2012

If someone on the street hands you something you don’t want – not something dangerous or disgusting, just something unwanted – you still throw it away, right? You took it, and you are now responsible to walk it a few steps to the trash or to stuff it in a pocket to throw away later. You don’t get a free pass to chuck the thing on the sidewalk simply because you didn’t want it in the first place.

You took it. Even if you wish you hadn’t taken it, the unwanted thing is now yours. And if you throw it on the ground, the buck stops with you, the litterer.

Clark County recently reversed this common sense idea, punishing the people who hand out possibly unwanted things instead of the people who are actually littering. The new law is intended to target handbillers on the Strip who hand out coupons or business information to pedestrians, but applies to anyone handing out material anywhere in unincorporated Clark County. Under the new law, people handing out material are responsible for any of their material taken and dropped within a 25-foot radius of where they stand, and they could be punished with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

That’s right; the fine and jail time are not for the litterers. Pedestrians who take information that is handed to them have a 25-foot window to decide if they actually want it. If they don’t, they can just toss it on the ground, and the person who gave it to them has to pick it up.

One justification is that because the handbillers are handing out “trash,” they should be the ones responsible. I say if someone tries to hand me actual trash and I take it, it’s my responsibility to see that trash to a garbage can.

This would be like me throwing my junk mail in the street instead of bringing it inside and recycling it - and also then expecting that the mailers get punished for my littering, as long as I toss their “trash” near my mailbox.

"There's a general principle in law that everyone can understand,” Allen Lichtenstein, ACLU of Nevada General Counsel, told Fox5 News. “You're responsible for your behavior, you're not responsible for someone else's behavior.”

Now that seems like common sense to me.

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