NC lawmakers move to make graffiti a felony

(Raleigh News & Observer) Graffiti vandals could land in prison under a bill that would make repeatedly marking up buildings a felony. The state Senate gave preliminary approval in a 42-7 vote to a proposed law that expands and toughens graffiti penalties. A final vote is expected Wednesday in the Senate. Current law covers statues, monuments and public buildings. Tagging public property is a Class 2 misdemeanor, with the stiffest penalty for five or more convictions two months in jail. House Bill 552 would extend the protection to any property. The severity of the offense is stepped up to a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a minimum $500 mandatory fine.

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Asheville to push back against short-term rentals, Airbnb

(Asheville Citizen-Times) Property owners renting out homes on a short-term basis, a practice made popular and lucrative through websites such as airbnb.com but which is illegal in most of the city, may find themselves facing bigger fines and other stepped-up enforcement. A majority of City Council members Tuesday said they want to toughen enforcement of illegal short-term rentals because they believe the practice degrades neighborhoods and reduces affordable housing. As defined by the city, short-term rentals are houses let out for less than 30 days where the owner is not staying in the home. Of the elected officials, Councilman Gordon Smith was the biggest critic of the rentals, saying the city might want to disallow them in all areas, including downtown which could be “hollowed out” by the practice. “We don’t want it to become just a place for tourists,” Smith said. Other council members said they weren’t sure about kicking out short-term rentals from all parts of the city. But Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Marc Hunt and council members Jan Davis and Gwen Wisler, like Smith, told staff they want stricter enforcement.

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Florida Couple Face 15 Years in Jail and Must Register As Sex Offenders After Sex On Beach

(Huffington Post) A Florida couple convicted of having sex on a crowded beach face up to 15 years behind bars and must register as sex offenders and for illicit public sexcapades. A Manatee County jury on Monday deliberated for about 15 minutes, before finding 20-year-old Elissa Alvarez and 40-year-old Jose “Benny” Caballero guilty of lewd and lascivious exhibition. The conviction came following a 2-day trial, during which the prosecution showed the jury a video filmed by a grandmother during a July visit to Cortez Beach in Bradenton. The video, according to The Associated Press, shows Alvarez moving on top of Caballero in a sexual manner. The defense failed in their attempts to convince the jury Alvarez had been dancing on Caballero, something Assistant State Attorney Anthony Dafonseca mocked in his closing argument. “She wasn’t dancing,” Dafonseca said. “It’s insulting your intelligence to say that she was dancing.”

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Confederate Flag Prom Photo With Gun-Toting High Schoolers Backfires

(Huffington Post) It’s that time of year when everyone’s Facebook feed is cluttered with prom photos — but there’s one image that’s standing out from the rest for all the wrong reasons. The picture circulating on social media shows eight students from Chaparral High School in Parker, Colorado posing for their prom photo with a large Confederate flag. Two girls are holding guns, while several others use their fingers to mimic a gun. The flag was never the official flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War, although its design was incorporated into several of the flags that were used. It was also used as a battle flag, and today is part of the state flag of Mississippi. But while supporters say it represents “southern pride,” others believe it is a symbol of racism, and variations of the flag are often used by white supremacy organizations. “The image is pretty disturbing, especially if they have real assault rifles in their hands,” University of Colorado-Boulder ethnic studies professor Arturo Aldama told Fox 31 Denver. “Not to mention, the Confederate flag and its legacy of white supremacy, Klan violence and the Jim Crow South.”

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Big change: Asheville, cities may get sales tax

(Asheville Citizen-Times) Cities around North Carolina may get the option to create their own sales taxes, a potentially historic move in a state where local governments have limited taxing authority. A bill in the state House would allow counties and cities to levy a quarter-cent sales tax and use the proceeds as they wish. The new revenue would ease pressure on property owners and give local governments more options after the state eliminates a business tax this summer, state lawmakers supporting the bill said. Mayor Esther Manheimer said she didn’t know if a majority of the City Council would support adding a sales tax, but called it a “positive opportunity” that would allow the city to collect more tourist dollars.

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