CalTrans is finalizing the details to restore California's Adopt-A-Highway program and could lift the moratorium for new sponsors by mid-May.
The new regulations will allow all groups, even controversial ones, to clean up the trash as long as their cause isn't criminal or violent in nature.
"Just because a group represents a controversial viewpoint, that under the First Amendment, is not grounds to prevent their participation in our Adopt-A-Highway program," says Will Kempton, the CalTrans director.
CalTrans stopped allowing new sponsors into the program last summer when it revoked the permit it gave to the San Diego Minutemen. They had been approved to clean up a two-mile stretch of Interstate 5 south of San Clemente near a major immigration checkpoint. They wanted no other highway section.
The courts have since sided with the Minutemen who continue to perform their volunteer duties today.
In a similar 2001 case, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Missouri could not deny the Ku Klux Klan from participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program.
While the Minutemen contend they are a patriotic group enforcing immigration laws, critics say they are anti-immigrant and shouldn't be legitimized by the state.
"No groups, regardless of who they are or where they come from, can use state-sponsored signs to promote a political agenda that's xenophobic and divides communities," says Assembly member Kevin DeLeon (D) of Los Angeles.
At a First Amendment rally sponsored by conservative radio talk show hosts, they say CalTrans made the right decision.
"There's a lot of viewpoints that are controversial. That's why we have free speech. I don't think it's against the law to have a controversial viewpoint," says Eric Hogue, a radio talk show host.
"It inflames. It incites tensions that already exists," says Assembly member DeLeon.
CalTrans is set to meet with the Latino caucus next week. If those lawmakers still feel the new regulations aren't strong enough to prevent controversial groups from adopting a highway, they may introduce legislation to force CalTrans' hand.