A House panel voted Thursday to put spray-paint cans on the same level as guns and alcohol, at least as far as minors are concerned.
On a 7-1 vote, the Judicial Committee agreed to make it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to possess a can of spray paint. Exceptions are provided for those on the property of the landowner, under adult supervision or as part of a job.
Violators could be sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined up to $500.
Identical penalties could be meted out for those with "etching tools or solutions."
Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said HB2138 is designed to give police throughout the state a new way to combat graffiti. Campbell said there is precedent for restricting what juveniles can possess, citing the examples of alcohol and guns, even unloaded ones.
But the idea of providing that added power to police did not sit well with everyone.
"The whole purpose of this is to make it easy to prosecute somebody and get a conviction because we didn't catch them in the act," said Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa. "To me, it doesn't justify making it unlawful to carry items that would otherwise be legitimate."
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, had similar concerns.
"I believe when we leave too much discretion to (police) officers, the majority of officers are going to be fine," he said. "But you have some that are going to abuse the power to do that."
Campbell said both were overly worried. He said that the exceptions for use under adult supervision or with a property owner's permission are sufficient.
"I don't see many other cases when a youth needs to be walking through a park, walking down the street, whatever it may be, with a spray-paint can in a back pocket, an etching solution in their back pocket," he said.
Campbell noted that state laws already make it illegal to sell aerosol paints to anyone younger than 18, though those laws are aimed at stopping juveniles from sniffing paint fumes.
The provision about etching solutions stems from what Campbell said is a growing problem where "taggers" are using chemicals to etch their messages into glass windows.
"Once you physically damage a window, it has to be replaced," he said. "There's not many ways way to fix that. For a small-business owner, these costs could be insurmountable."
Campbell also noted that he removed another provision from the original bill that would have included "broad-tipped indelible markers" to the list of prohibited items.
Ash, however, wasn't convinced.
"There's nothing inherently bad about these materials," he said. "It's only the way in which we use them that is reprehensible."
The measure now needs a vote of the full House.