Legislators strike back at graffiti with bill

CARSON CITY -- Legislators got tough Sunday with juveniles who graffiti private or public property.

On a 40-2 vote, the Assembly approved a state Senate-passed bill that allows civil lawsuits to be filed against the parents of children under age 18 if the juveniles have defaced property with graffiti. The property owner can seek triple damages and lawyer fees.

Under Senate Bill 257 from state Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, the perpetrators and their parents also can be ordered into counseling, and be required to do community service and make restitution.

Those who deface "protected property," such as ancient Native American rock drawings, can be charged with felonies that carry sentences of more than one year in prison.

The vote came on a day when the state Senate and Assembly would convene briefly, then recess for hours while their leaders met with Gov. Brian Sandoval in attempts to reach an agreement on the state budget.

Because of the closed-door budget negotiations, as many as 100 bills await action today , the deadline for passage of most of the bills remaining in the 2011 session. The session ends at 1 a.m. June 7.

Among the more prominent bills to win approval Sunday night was SB223, called "Cooney's Law" by its backers in memory of a dog killed last year in Reno by its owner. The owner ripped open Cooney's stomach with a box cutter.

Under the bill, cases of extreme animal cruelty would be prosecuted as felony crimes, subject to a year or more in prison.

Those who willfully torture, mutilate, maim or kill any animal kept for companion­ship would be subject to a felony offense under the bill approved 34-8 in the Assembly. State Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, sponsored the bill. The Senate must concur in a minor amendment before the bill goes to the governor.

The get-tough stance on graffiti bothered Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas.

"I understand the impact of graffiti," said Neal before voting no. "But allowing civil cases against families in my district may be difficult." She said many people are impoverished.

But Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, applauded the bill, noting it goes beyond one he supported several sessions ago.

"It looks like we haven't fixed the problem yet," he said. "We are trying to make it harder on these folks, with which I agree."

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said he formerly opposed graffiti bills, but now backs them. The state "still cannot adequately combat the problem of graffiti," he said.

Only Neal and Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, voted against SB257. The Senate must concur in a minor amendment before the bill goes to Sandoval for his signature or veto.

In other votes Sunday:

■ On a voice vote, Assembly members approved Senate amendments to Assembly Bill 501 that require legislative staff to conduct an audit on the costs of capital punishment versus the costs of keeping inmates in prison for life. Nevada has more than 80 people on death row and has not executed an inmate since 2006. Of the 11 inmates executed since 1979, 10 were put to death after deciding against making further legal appeals.

■ On a unanimous vote, the Assembly passed SB233, which would establish a three-member office of grant procurement. Staff members will strive to secure more federal grants for Nevada.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3801.