By Mannix Porterfield
Graffiti artists could be looking at some serious jail time and hefty fines in an effort to create a state law against intentionally defacing private and public property.
Passage of SB408 by the Senate in Wednesday’s floor session seeks to add a state law, since now only municipal ordinances cover the offense.
“We have 58 other property crimes,” Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, told reporters after unanimous approval of the measure.
“This is No. 59. Clearly, a number of municipalities like Huntington have put by ordinance this prohibition. But that’s a patchwork of local ordinances around the state.”
Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, alluded to “a laundry list” of property crimes, then told senators, “This would add one for graffiti.”
Actually, the proposal is a two-tiered one.
When the damage falls under $1,000, he explained, a first offense calls for a jail term of one day to six months, or a $1,000 fine, or both.
A second offense exposes the violator to 48 hours to six months behind bars, along with a maximum penalty of $2,000, or both.
For third and subsequent offenses, the penalty is a jail sentence of three months to a year, or a $10,000 fine, or both.
When the damage exceeds $1,000, there is a single penalty — one year in jail, or a $10,000 fine, or both.
Palumbo assured Jenkins that while restitution isn’t included in the Senate bill, existing law already allows a court to order this, if an owner wants his property cleared of graffiti.
Likewise, Palumbo advised him, the law allows community service.
And, Jenkins was told, if a juvenile cannot pay the fine, his parents can be held responsible — not in this legislation, but under existing law.
Jenkins said the bill was inspired by police and prosecutors in his district asking for a more defined tool under which to pursue graffiti artists.
“There is not a state law sufficient to address the problem,” the senator said.
Jenkins said an outbreak of graffiti has surfaced not only in Huntington but other municipalities that he has visited.
“It tends to concentrate in larger municipalities,” he said.
“It also tends to be in economically distressed parts of the community. But it’s not limited to that.”
In another bill passed Wednesday by the Senate, equine rescue facilities would be licensed and routinely inspected.
Agriculture Committee Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, said equine rescue facilities must be inspected by a county animal control or humane officer before a license can be issued.
Two annual inspections must be conducted, paid for by a $100 fee.
Miller said the agriculture commissioner must propose rules on the issuance and revocation of licenses, along with standards of the facilities.
Violations would be a misdemeanor, fetching a fine of $100 to $500 for a first offense, and $500 to $2,500 for all other violations.
West Virginia has three such facilities in operation, Miller said.
Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the bill is needed because of some shady practices brought to his attention in which donations were made ostensibly to care for animals.
Instead, he said, the money wound up in the pockets of the owners, paying for clothes and cars.
Later on, he noted, some horses died of starvation.
The bill was a goal in this session of Summer Wyatt, state director of the Humane Society of the United States.
“Some people get horses on a whim, and do not understand the care that they need,” Wyatt said, when the bill was in Miller’s committee.
“There have been a lot of cases in West Virginia where people and some horse rescues unfortunately have been charged with misdemeanor neglect because their horses have become emaciated or even died on the property due to neglect.”
Arising in an interim committee, the Senate also passed SB164 that attempts to crack down on frivolous lawsuits filed behind prison bars.
One part of the measure allows the administration to impose sanctions, since some inmates are lifers and cannot rack up “good time,” so this isn’t an incentive to prevent the suits, Palumbo noted.
“A lot of prisoners who file can’t lose good time because they’re serving life without mercy,” the judiciary chairman said.
For those serving lesser terms, Palumbo said the bill also allows a correctional facility to decide if good time should be forfeited for filing bogus suits, rather than a circuit court.
And, the bill lets the administration ascertain if good time can be removed for filing malicious and frivolous complaints with the licensing boards that have jurisdiction over professionals who provide convicts services.
Even if a suit or complaint has merit, if brought to harass, the good time can be stricken, Palumbo said.
“This is meant to help keep those professionals from coming, because it’s becoming more difficult to get them to provide them services with the frivolous litigation that they’re faced with,” he said.
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