In U.S., copper theft closer to becoming a federal crime

Bill passed by Senate Judiciary Committee requires scrap sellers to authenticate ownership and aims to prevent thieves from stealing in one state and selling in another.

A bill introduced to the United States Senate by a bipartisan foursome of Senators would make the theft of copper—or any metal—a federal crime. In mid-June the four Senators, Lindsay Graham (R-SC), John Hoeven (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced their bill had passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, “paving the way for a vote in the full Senate,” they said.

Called the Metal Theft Prevention Act, the proposed legislation “would help crack down on metal thieves and make it harder for them to sell stolen metal,” said a release from Senator Klobuchar. The release also noted that U.S. Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. (View the Senate Bill here and the House Bill here.)

Klobuchar said, “In communities across Minnesota, thieves are targeting public infrastructure, churches and even taking brass stars from our veterans’ graves to make a quick buck. This is an important step forward for this legislation, and I will continue to work with law enforcement and local officials to crack down on metal thieves and make it more difficult for them to sell their stolen goods.”

Graham added, “Thefts and resale of high-priced metals stolen from churches, businesses and our nation’s critical infrastructure has skyrocketed in recent years. Our legislation makes it a federal crime to steal from these sites. It also creates common-sense safeguards to prevent resale without interfering with states’ rights to prosecute.”

The act calls for enforcement by the U.S. attorney general, and gives state attorneys general the ability to bring civil actions to enforce its provisions. Additionally, it directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review penalty guidelines as they relate to metal theft, and ensure these guidelines are adequate. Also, the bill makes it an explicit federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.

Also, as Graham alluded to, the bill intends to make it more difficult for metal thieves to sell stolen goods to scrap dealers. Its “do-not-buy” provision bans scrap-metal dealers from buying certain items unless the items’ sellers can provide written documentation of their authorization to sell the metal. “As a result of the bill,” Klobuchar’s statement continued, “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 over $100 be done by check instead of cash, to further help law enforcement track down thieves.”

Of the recent legislative milestone, Schumer noted, “With the passage of the Metal Theft Act out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we are a step closer to putting thieves who steal scrap metal from homes, businesses, infrastructure behind ironclad bars. This practical plan will combat the rash of metal theft by requiring recyclers to keep detailed documentation of metal purchases, capping the amount of cash recyclers can pay for scrap metal, ensuring that those selling scrap metal are authorized to do so, and by making metal theft a federal crime. I will push for this proposal’s full Senate passage, to safeguard families, business owners, and commuters who are endangered by the stripped infrastructure, fires, and financial hit as a result of these crimes.”

Hoeven said, “What the federal law does is make sure that thieves can’t steal metal in one state and sell it in another state—something that has become increasingly common across the nation. At the same time, we’ve worked to craft the bill in a way that is flexible and responsive, and takes into consideration the concerns of businesses and attorneys general across the country by making sure that state law supersedes federal law in cases of metal theft.”

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