- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Tougher penalties for people who spray-paint or scribble on public or private property in North Carolina is nearing Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk.

The Senate gave tentative approval Tuesday to legislation creating a new crime called “graffiti vandalism” that would result in a low-grade felony and possible time behind bars on a third conviction.

Current law addresses graffiti on public buildings and monuments or general damage to real property.

The measure has already passed the House unanimously. The bipartisan bill’s sponsors include several from the Asheville area worried about such vandalism in the city. But the legislation would apply statewide. The Buncombe County district attorney’s office has expressed concern that the current laws aren’t proving to be a deterrent, according to legislators.

This “is a major problem in Asheville. It’s something they’re dealing with,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, who is shepherding the bill through his chamber.

The bill would make someone convicted of graffiti vandalism guilty of the second most severe form of misdemeanor, face a minimum $500 fine and 24 hours of community service if such a punishment is imposed. The crime would upgrade to a felony if the person had two or more previous convictions for the crime or had committed at least five such violations within 60 days.

Preliminary Senate approval came on a 42-7 vote. A final vote is expected Wednesday, although a possible amendment from Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, if approved, would require another signoff by the House.

Stein said he was concerned that a young person who goes on a vandalism spree and paints or defaces five separate properties in one short period could face a felony.

“I am completely sympathetic to the purpose of this bill,” Stein said, but “I just don’t think it’s appropriate to hang a felony around somebody’s neck for this.”

The maximum prison term for someone with a lengthy record found guilty of the proposed felony would be just over two years.

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