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VA may pass legislation to fine people who steal and abandon shopping carts

State Sen. Scott Surovell has proposed a bill allowing local governments to fine shopping cart thieves $500 and require stores to cover the costs of picking them up.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Betsy Martin organizes a massive clean-up effort every year at the Little Hunting Creek in Fairfax County. Surprisingly, she said some of the nastiest and most difficult things they pull out of the water, are shopping carts.

"They create little dams, so they get filled with other trash and leaves and branches, and they just all get sort of embedded in there," Martin said. 

In 2012, volunteers said they pulled out 177 carts from the creek. Since then, the average has been more than a dozen each year. 

Virginia state Senator Scott Surovell has proposed legislation aimed at curbing the problem. He introduced SB 631 to make it "unlawful for any person to place, leave, or abandon on any real property in the county, or within specified districts within the county, any shopping cart." 

"The bill requires such ordinance to provide that any such shopping cart that remains on the real property after a notice of violation is given to the owner of such shopping cart shall be presumed to be abandoned and subject to removal from the real property by the county or its agents without further notice ... The bill also authorizes such ordinance to prohibit possession of a shopping cart outside of the designated premises when the owner has posted notice of such prohibition." 

Surovell’s bill would allow local governments to fine shopping cart thieves up to $500, and would allow them to require stores to pick the carts up themselves, or pay for cost of removal.

Surovell has gotten his own hands dirty, pulling carts out of creeks. 

"Once you’ve actually done it, gone out there are removed one of these things, you really want to go punch somebody," Surovell said. 

Surovell's legislation went up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday, and the Senate chose to revisit it. Surovell said he thinks he has the votes to see the bill through, when the senate revisits it on Monday. 

"These stores are basically just neglecting to control their carts, and now they’ve become a public nuisance," Surovell said. "From my point of view we have to incentivize these businesses to take care of their property."

Martin said she hopes to see action taken and changes made for her group of dedicated cleaners. 

“It shouldn’t be up to elderly volunteers to try to get these things out of the creek," Martin said. "They need to take responsibility for them." 

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