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Graffiti bill already moving in Legislature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the first bills moving in the 2013 legislative session also is one of the last bills passed at the end of the 2012 regular session -- legislation to criminalize graffiti (SB116).

Co-sponsor Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said the new Senate bill started out the same as the bill that passed the Legislature on the final day of the 2012 regular session but was vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin because it contained technical errors.

"The bill as introduced this year was the version of the bill that passed the House and Senate last year," Jenkins said.

In 2012, the bill drew considerable skepticism, particularly in the House, where some delegates saw provisions such as felony charges for third-offense acts of graffiti as overreaching. Those concerns pushed the passage vote to the final day of the regular session.

On Thursday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a toned-down version of the bill, removing potential felony charges and a section that would have allowed judges to suspend the driver's licenses of juveniles convicted of misdemeanor graffiti charges.

The bill advanced Thursday also scales back fines for people convicted on graffiti charges, fines that in the original draft could go as high as $10,000.

Jenkins said the proliferation of graffiti in Huntington, which prompted the original bill, continues to be a problem there.

"State law has a long list of property crimes for destroying or defacing property," he said, "but within that list doesn't have anything that specifically prohibits or defines graffiti."

The bill next goes to the Senate floor, where it could become the first bill to pass the Senate next week.

Also Thursday, the House and Senate transportation committees held what has informally become an annual state of highways in disrepair address from Department of Transportation officials, as part of Transportation Day at the Capitol.

With dozens of contractors and construction workers filling the House chambers -- with many wearing yellow safety vests -- government and industry representatives discussed the deteriorating state of West Virginia roads.

Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox noted that the current funding formula for road construction and maintenance, which relies primarily on dwindling federal dollars and a state tax on gasoline, is increasingly inadequate.

"West Virginia's highway system is a bargain," he said, "but it is not free."

Mattox said the average driver in West Virginia pays about $296 in gas taxes a year, or about 81 cents a day for what he called the privilege of driving on the state's highways.

"That is less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day," he said.

"We need a long-term solution to funding infrastructure," Mattox said, "not only at the federal level, but the state level, as well."

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, director of the Rahall Transportation Institute, said he is encouraged that a blue-ribbon commission appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is making progress regarding highway funding issues and options.

"We have to have a plan that will sustain our economy," Plymale said. "What is needed and what is required is additional revenue -- but people don't like to hear that."

In 2011, Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have increased various Division of Motor Vehicles fees to provide an additional $43 million a year for the state Road Fund. At the time, Tomblin cited a technical error in the bill, as well as the poor timing for increasing fees, as state residents were struggling to recover from the latest recession.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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