Ravell Call, Deseret News
Graffiti in the area of 150 South Main Street in Salt Lake City, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite concerns that legislation criminalizing the possession of graffiti tools would infringe on personal liberties, the Senate gave preliminary approval to SB107 Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, would make the possession of spray paint, markers and other tools of taggers a class B misdemeanor.

"It has attracted national attention. That tells me we're on the right track," said Mayne, speaking on the Senate floor.

Tuesday, the activist cyber group that calls itself Anonymous hacked into the Salt Lake City Police Department website to protest the bill. The hacking resulted in a temporary shutdown of the site. On Wednesday, Salt Lake police advised anyone who submitted complaints online about drug crimes to change their passwords as a precaution. Investigators discovered the hackers accessed those complaints, which included phone numbers, email addresses and other personal information.

The group's statement, posted on its website, said Mayne has watched the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report" too many times. In the film, people are punished before they commit crimes. "A law prohibiting ownership and use of purchased products based on suspected intent?" the statement read.

Mayne said people in law enforcement and prosecutors support the bill. "There's not one entity that does not support this bill," she said.

But some senators spoke against the measure. Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, said the bill was well intended. "At the same time, it is concerning to me we are eliminating the opportunity for an individual to do the right thing," he said, explaining that someone might purchase graffiti tools then decide not to use them for illegal purposes.

"I don't think we criminalize people simply for their intent instead of their actions."

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said SB107 "goes too far."

While he acknowledged the challenges police encounter, he planned to vote against the bill. "We can cut out so much crime … if we know who the criminals are and round them up."

Such a practice would "happen at the expense of liberty, the expense of society."

But Mayne, addressing the Senate during the bill's second reading, said community leaders are asking for help with a vexing problem.

"It's a real issue. It's a costly issue for constituents and our citizens in the United States," she said.

Mayne said that members of the Unified Police Department asked her help with the issue.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said the initial thinking was that the issue could be dealt with through local ordinance. 

But since graffiti is a statewide problem, it "morphed into a bill."

Winder said while he supports the concept, he had not read the language of SB107 until press reports broke about the hacking of the Salt Lake Police Department website.

"Am I supportive of it? You bet," Winder said. "I understand where it may need some more wordsmithing."

Winder said it is important to remember that all legislation considered by state lawmakers are works in progress.

"I hope all groups that have concerns about this understand that," Winder said, referring to the hacking. "There are more positive ways to raise concerns on particular legislation."

Senate leaders, in their daily press briefing, responded to questions about the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said if "most people understand there is a law they will follow it."

When asked how the Legislature could on the one hand consider an open-carry firearms law but also entertain a law that criminalizes the possession of graffiti tools, Senate President Michael Waddoups said, "I think there's a difference between shooting and carrying."

HB49, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, says openly carrying a gun would not be sufficient rationale for charging that person with disorderly conduct.

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Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said senators who voted for the bill on second reading may have a change of heart on the bill's final reading.

"There were a lot of ayes on 2," referring to the vote on the bill's second reading. "I think the good senator has a lot of work to do to get that bill across the floor."

When asked about the hacking of the police website, Waddoups said, "It's sad people would take that approach. It costs taxpayer dollars."

People who hide behind the moniker Anonymous "don't have very much respect from me."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com