Bill may let counties pass own graffiti laws

PHOENIX - When it comes to graffiti vandalism in the counties, hands are tied not for sprayers, taggers and etchers, but for county officials who under current law have no power to fight the crime.

This might change if a bill passes that would allow counties to establish their own ordinances for graffiti prevention, removal and abatement.

About 20 cities and towns currently have those regulations in place, but counties - which are entities of the state government - depend on the Legislature to change the law and expand their jurisdiction.

The ordinances under the bill are not yet clearly defined. But officials said it is likely that rules similar to those of municipalities will be implemented.

This could include prohibiting selling spray paint, etching solution and certain markers to minors, as well as locking up those products or displaying them within view of the cashier.

It would also allow counties to use their budget for graffiti removal.

Though Pima County officials were the driving force behind House bill 2328, all counties are in support of the measure, said Craig Sullivan, executive director of the County Supervisors Association.

""We think that it is going to vastly increase our ability to work with cities and municipalities to deal with vandalism caused by graffiti,"" Sullivan said.

Pima County officials spend about $300,000 annually on removing graffiti on county property, he said, which does not include private housing or businesses.

""We have a large unincorporated population, so all they have to do is cross the street and go into the county to buy their spray paint,"" said Rep. Jennifer Burns, R-Tucson, the bill's sponsor.

It is illegal in several cities, including Tucson, for minors to buy spray paint.

Though graffiti is also an issue on the UA campus, it is not higher than in any other community, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, spokesman for the University of Arizona Police Department.

Painted bathroom stalls and walls are the areas targeted most commonly, Mejia said, though he didn't have exact numbers of incidences.

Mejia also said he didn't know whether the sprayers are students because the number of arrests are very low.

The university, not the City of Tucson, is responsible for the cleanup, he said.

Burns' bill only is one part of what communities can and should do to battle graffiti, said Michael Racy, a Pima County spokesman.

Now that outreach and volunteer programs have been implemented, the measure could add a legal component that residents are not able to enforce themselves, Racy said at a hearing on the bill.

""This bill is the end of a many, many, many-year community effort with neighborhood groups, business groups and a local nonprofit,"" he said. ""And all those groups came to us and asked for this piece of the puzzle.""

But several legislators were critical about the bill at its first hearing in the House Counties Municipalities and Military Affairs Committee on Jan. 23.

Most outspoken was Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who said he was most concerned about overregulating small businesses by requiring them to lock up certain products like spray cans, etching solution and markers.

Pearce also said there should be uniform statewide standards that require all areas to enforce the same rules.

""This is feel-good legislation in my opinion,"" he said. ""I'm not sure it does any good. I haven't seen any empirical data that would indicate this has the results we intended for it to happen.""

Despite the criticism, the bill is awaiting a final vote in the House before it can be signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano.


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