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Thumbs up: Graffiti legislation is important step

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 10:51 PM

Painting on your own wall may be art.

Painting on someone else's wall is a crime.

The bill that passed the West Virginia state Senate last week helps spell that out, and we urge members of the House of Delegates to approve the action as well.

The "graffiti" legislation that passed both the House and the Senate last year was vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin because of a technical error. The bill approved by the Senate this year is similar but was amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee to make the penalties less severe. That may be disappointing to many in Huntington who have dealt with the expense and hassle of "graffiti" cleanup on their property, but the bill is a start.

Under current law, prosecution of grafitti vandalism must fall under more general statutes about "destruction of property." While local authorities have made a few cases that way, the bill makes the act of "tagging" a crime in itself.

In the bill, "graffiti" is defined as "any unauthorized inscription, word, figure or design that is marked, etched, scratched, drawn or painted on any real or personal property." A person who places grafitti on public or private property is guilty of a misdemeanor. That settles the "art vs. vandalism" debate.

The punishments for first offense is 24 hours to six months in jail and a fine of not more than $1,000. Jail time and fine constraints increase with each subsequent conviction. A possible third offense felony charge in earlier versions of the bill has been removed, and with growing concerns about prison overcrowding, that is not surprising.

But legislation still leaves plenty of room for judges to order community service, particularly making offenders clean up their mess. That is a step in the right direction.



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