Minneapolis moves closer to tightening rules governing spray paint sales

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Despite concerns voiced by retailers, a Minneapolis City Council committee on Wednesday indicated its readiness to restrict how local stores can display and sell spray paint.

A new ordinance sponsored by Ninth Ward Council Member Gary Schiff and designed to limit access to spray paint by young graffiti artists and gang members, found wide support from members of the influential Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee. The law would mandate that retailers store spray paint in locked cabinets, storage rooms or behind the counter. It would also require stores to post a sign notifying shoppers that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to purchase the paint and would require store employees to check the identification of anyone seeking to buy spray paint.

Schiff noted that graffiti has become such a problem that Minneapolis Police have arrested, on average, one tagger every three days since 2004. The average age of the perpetrator is 17, he noted, and the cost to the city this year will reach $250,000. “Gang graffiti has been exploding on our streets,” he said. “Our constituents have been demanding that we do something about this.”

Buzz Anderson, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, told the committee that his members understand that graffiti has become a major problem, but he argued that the Schiff ordinance was not comprehensive enough to have an impact. He noted that Chicago banned the sale of spray paint in 2002 and found that the law “has had no effect at all” on the amount of graffiti in the city.

Anderson suggested that the committee delay a decision on the ordinance for two weeks so he could argue for an alternative approach, what he called the “Responsible Retailer” plan. Under that strategy, stores would work to train their employees to monitor the ages of those attempting to purchase spray paint, keep the product in view to prevent shoplifting, and work with police to educate kids about the graffiti problem.

Also suggesting a delay was Matt Hardin, executive director of the state Hardware Association, who claimed that any law requiring store owners to store spray paint in a locked cabinet would be prohibitively expensive and would limit sales.

Schiff called the “Responsible Retailer” strategy a “do-nothing plan” and argued that the costs of compliance would be negligible and would do little to inhibit sales. He noted that retailers have known about the proposed ordinance for more than a month and would have plenty of time to comply with the new law.

Council Member Paul Ostrow agreed that the ordinance was the best strategy the city had to deal with graffiti, but suggested that a two-week delay to allow retailers to respond to the proposal wouldn’t “cause us any problems.” Committee chair Don Samuels and Council Member Diane Hofstede agreed and by a 3–2 vote (with Schiff and Council Member Cam Gordon dissenting), the committee agreed to take up the matter again at its next meeting.

Animal license fees could rise
The committee also unanimously endorsed a significant increase in the annual cost of a dog and cat license. The fees for sterilized animals would increase from $15 to $30 under the plan, while the cost of a license for an unsterilized pet would jump from $30 to $50. The proposed rate schedule would include a “lifetime” license for $200.

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