Prune or Pay Up: Rhode Island Bill Targets Negligent Neighbors' Trees

Pine needles belong in the forest, not on a neighbor's lawn, according to a Rhode Island lawmaker who wants to compel residents to trim unruly twigs and trees.

The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require homeowners to prune their shrubbery and trees or face a $500 fine if plant litter lands on someone else's property.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Frank Ciccone, said he introduced the legislation after listening to concerns about pine trees from residents in his Silver Lake district of Providence.

Pine trees are "nice in the forest, nice in certain areas, but they shed these pine needles and sap onto adjacent vehicles and driveways," he said.

Senators voted 26-6 to pass the bill that would require homeowners to maintain and control any debris created by a tree or shrubs if it causes a nuisance to an abutting property owner.

Sen. Elaine Morgan, a Republican who voted against it, said landowners shouldn't be held responsible for raking falling leaves.

"If a tree fell in my neighbor's yard, yes, I would take care of it," she said. "But leaves? I clean my own. Are we going to do genetic testing to see whose leaves they are?"

Ciccone said most fallen leaves don't count as debris, but the bill doesn't make that distinction.

"It's not so much the leaves but the pine needles. They blow into windows," he said.

Ciccone said his bill would add language to an existing law preventing trees and other vegetation from blocking public sidewalks. If passed, it would be up to each city and town to enforce it.

Senators also voted to pass the bill last year but it stalled in the House of Representatives. It now moves to a House committee for consideration.

A spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures said the organization doesn't keep track of laws pertaining to tree and shrub pruning. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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