Raleigh, N.C. — State senators are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to create a new class of crime for graffiti, which could lead to prison time for repeat offenders.
House Bill 552 would separate graffiti from other forms of vandalism and would charge with a felony anyone with two previous convictions for "graffiti vandalism" or anyone charged with five or more such violations in a 60-day period. The felony charge could result in four to eight months behind bars.
Supporters say the felony charge would give police leverage to deal with habitual taggers. Graffiti victim Bill Landahl said he thinks it's overkill, especially because police have told him it's mostly teens doing the damage.
Landahl's Oak City Coffee Roasters, on West Hargett Street in Raleigh, has been been tagged, as have other businesses near the rail yard west of downtown.
"That's a pretty heavy-duty thing that most kids don't even know what impact that would have on their lives," he said Monday. "Those records don't go away. They follow you the rest of your life, and that's a scary thing."
Graffiti is already a misdemeanor as a form of vandalism – the first two "graffiti vandalism" crimes would still be misdemeanors that carry $500 fines and 24 hours of community service – and Landahl said enforcing that law would help.
Raleigh is good about cleaning up graffiti, he said, but he doesn't see much effort to stop it from happening.
"There’s really not a serious presence at all," he said. "For all laws, I feel like let's enforce what we have and see if we really need more. I don't know that more laws make a better society."
The House passed the graffiti vandalism offense last year as part of an omnibus crime bill, but the measure never made it through the Senate. So, House members filed a bill this year specifically for the offense, and it passed unanimously last month.
If the Senate follows suit, the bill could be on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk by the end of the week.