The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving forward on a bill that will make stealing and selling scrap metal from critical infrastructure federal offenses.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) at the beginning of the session, will establish harsher penalties for metal thieves, making it a federal offense to steal metal from critical infrastructure.
The federal measure is similar to many state laws that require metal sellers to provide proof of ownership and that limit cash payments for scrap metal from recyclers to $100. The National Conference of State Legislatures found 33 states with laws concerning metal theft in 2008.
Action against metal theft is growing on the state level, as well, according to a report on National Public Radio. The proposed federal legislation joins a large number of proposed measures in states aimed at cracking down on theft of copper and other metals.
“For police, there’s another challenge. Once the copper is stolen, it’s nearly impossible to track it down,” said Candice Wheeler, an NPR reporter. “Since January, 49 bills have been introduced in 23 states. Many of them involve just that problem — tracking the sale of used copper.” Cell tower owners are very familiar with the increase of copper theft at cell sites over the years.
According to the senators, the Metal Theft Prevention Act was crafted in response to the rash of general metal theft, which has jumped more than 80 percent in recent years, including high-priced metal from critical infrastructure as well as businesses, homes and churches. Between 2009 and 2011, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found more than 25,000 insurance claims related to metal theft, an increase of 81 percent compared with claims made between 2006 and 2008. Damages to industry are expected to exceed $900 million each year, according to government statistics.
The Metal Theft Prevention Act calls for enforcement by the U.S. Attorney General and gives state attorneys general the ability to bring civil actions to enforce the provisions of the legislation. It also directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review penalty guidelines as they relate to metal theft.
In addition, the legislation would make it much tougher for thieves to sell stolen metals to scrap metal dealers. It bans scrap metal dealers from buying certain items unless the sellers establish, by written documentation, that they are authorized to sell the metal in question. As a result of the bill, scrap metal dealers would be required to keep detailed records of metal purchases for two years and make them available to law enforcement agencies. The bill would also require that purchases of scrap metal of more than $100 be done by check instead of cash, to further help law enforcement track down thieves.
Klobuchar, Graham and Schumer introduced similar legislation in the previous Congress.