W.Va. Senate Passes Graffiti Bill

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – State lawmakers are trying to clean up the streets in a different way.

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday putting stiff fines in place for people caught putting up unwanted graffiti.

Several cities have their own laws dealing with the problem, but there's no clear statewide law.

The Senate’s bill has a few provisions:

  • The crime would be a misdemeanor.

  • If the damage costs less than $1,000 to repair, a person’s first offense would mean 24 hours to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

  • On a second offense the jail term would be 48 hours to six months and a fine up to $2,000.

  • For the third offense, a person would go to jail for 90 days to six months and face a fine up to $10,000. The same punishments could be applied to anyone who causes more than $1,000 damage, regardless of how many times that person has been caught.

“My building's been hit over 30 times in the last three years," says David Tyson of Huntington.

The city has seen plenty of issues with graffiti recently, including the Sombi tags from a few years ago.

"This is not an art form what we're seeing downtown, these jagged words, but simply destroying people's property," Tyson says.

The pool at Cato Park in Charleston was tagged last summer, causing so much trouble it was forced to close. No one was ever charged.

"The city of Charleston has (spent) thousands of dollars. When public grounds, when those places are defaced, it comes back out of the taxpayers' money," Police Sgt. Bobby Eggleton says.

The lampposts and buildings along Capitol Street have been hot spots, too. Police arrested two people in September for tagging several of them.

While cities have had some success cracking down, several local leaders have been lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill at the state level.

"We have local law enforcement and state police and prosecutors saying, you know what, we have a difficult time trying to prohibit this activity when there's not a clear state law," says state Sen. Evan Jenkins (D-Cabell).

But at The Convenience Store along Summers Street in Charleston, it's OK to spray.

"The owner of this building here, he doesn't care. He's all about it. He even lets people tag over here. But, the city comes through and paints over it," says lead manager Scot Shapero.

He says there’s a fine line between art and defacing someone’s property, but he adds passing a law to ban graffiti could end up backfiring.

"Making a law against it would just make it cooler," he says.

The House of Delegates has its own version of the bill. Teens could end up losing their drivers' licenses if they're caught.

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