Raleigh, N.C. — By a 112-0 vote Wednesday, the state House approved a bipartisan bill that would make graffiti a crime – and in some cases, a felony.
House Bill 552 creates a specific crime of graffiti vandalism, defined as "to unlawfully write or scribble on, mark, paint, deface, or besmear" private or public property, buildings, structures or artwork using "a pen, paint, or marker," even if the ink isn't permanent.
Unlike other vandalism charges, it would carry a mandatory minimum fine of $500. The first two offenses would be misdemeanors in most cases, but a third conviction would be a felony. A felony charge could also be brought against someone found to have committed five or more offenses over a 60-day period.
The original legislation would have also allowed a felony charge against anyone whose graffiti caused more than $1,000 in damage, but sponsors removed that provision from the bill on the House floor after critics worried that it was overly broad, since any graffiti on a finished surface or artwork could easily cost $1,000 to repair.
Sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said he introduced the bill at the request of the Buncombe County district attorney, who he said had asked him to increase penalties for graffiti.
Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, added his support, saying graffiti vandalism was the topic of a community meeting in his district last week.
"Graffiti is a huge problem for us, not just in the city of Asheville but in Buncombe County," Turner said. "This will go a long way toward increasing the penalties and making our communities a better place to live and a more pleasant place to live."
A similar proposal passed the House in 2014 as part of a criminal law omnibus but did not make it through the Senate. The bill's passage before the crossover deadline ensures it will get another chance this biennium.