Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate on Tuesday tentatively approved a bill that would create a new criminal charge for graffiti, with higher penalties and potential jail time.
House Bill 552 creates a crime called "graffiti vandalism." It would carry a higher penalty than regular vandalism, with a $500 fine and 24 hours of community service per conviction.
The charge would become a Class H felony if the accused already has two prior convictions for graffiti or if he or she committed five violations within 60 days. A Class H felony can carry several months of jail time.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said the bill was requested by the Buncombe County District Attorney's Office.
"This is a major problem in Asheville," Apodaca explained.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said he's sympathetic to the need for the bill and supports penalizing graffiti, but he will try to amend the bill Wednesday to remove the "five violations" trigger for a felony charge.
Stein said that section could mean a felony record for "a kid who’s acting out in one instance" but tags five or more properties.
"I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to hang a felony around someone’s neck for this," he said.
The final vote tally was 42-7, with several Democratic senators changing their "yes" votes to "no" after the fact, which is allowed under Senate rules.
The Senate will take a final vote on the measure Wednesday. If Stein is successful in amending the bill, it will have to go back to the House for a final vote there before it heads to the governor's desk.