Gwinnett lawmakers pushing graffiti bill

ATLANTA - Several House Democrats from Gwinnett County are pushing legislation to give local governments more authority to order property owners to clean up unsightly graffiti.

"We have areas we know are being used as drug houses and prostitution houses,'' said Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, the anti-graffiti bill's chief sponsor. "The county and cities don't have powers to deal with it.''

Marin's bill would amend the state law dealing with the powers of local governments to control public nuisances.

It would add "the presence of graffiti which are visible from adjoining public or private property'' to the list of reasons local officials could cite for declaring a building unfit for human occupancy.

The list also includes such conditions as structural defects, lack of light or ventilation, or the presence of a fire hazard.

Marin and Rep. Hugh Floyd, D-Norcross, one of the bill's cosponsors, have taken aim at graffiti during previous legislative sessions. The two joined forces in 2003 to steer through the General Assembly a bill authorizing prison officials to use inmates to remove graffiti from private property.

Connie Wiggins, executive director of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, said the 2003 law has helped reduce the presence of graffiti in local communities where it has been a problem, as has a 2005 county ordinance requiring removal of graffiti within 72 hours.

Wiggins said the environmental group has been surveying neighborhoods gathering data for its annual report on graffiti, which should be ready in the next several weeks.

"Some of the folks we have out said it was very encouraging to see people removing graffiti,'' she said. "It's a good sign that people realize the quicker we get it off, the less likely it is to reoccur.''

Under Marin's bill, local courts could order a building defaced by graffiti to be repaired - presumably by removing the graffiti. However, judges could not order a building to be closed or destroyed solely because of the presence of graffiti.

The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.