New Bills Designed to Slow Copper Theft

May 5, 2008
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Byron Thelander knows the pain of copper thievery. The owner of Thelander Heating & Cooling Specialists, Onawa, Iowa, lost his father, Earl, to a gas explosion last September, a direct result of a copper theft from a rental home that Earl owned. The elder Thelander had detected the smell of gas in the home and turned on a fan to clear the fumes. That sparked a propane gas explosion that burned 80 percent of his body. The fumes came from a propane gas line that was damaged when thieves stole copper tubing. Earl died four days after being admitted to the hospital. He was 80. Sadly, police estimated that the copper only netted the thieves $10-$20.

Because of his death, Byron has become an even stronger advocate for legislation to make it harder for copper thieves to sell their stolen goods to junk dealers and salvage yards.

“I have been asked to appear before the legislature and to visit with our lawmakers,” he said. “I want to hear from other people who know of any instances of copper theft. I just want our lawmakers to know that this is a nationwide problem that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, with input from others, I can give a compelling presentation and we can get the ball rolling to control this madness.”

Presently, Iowa does not require salvage yard operators to keep records of their customers. But Omaha and Council Bluffs require salvage yard operators to record the identity and fingerprints of people who sell scrap copper. Unfortunately, Onawa police have not tracked down the thieves who broke into Earl’s house.

A proposed bill in the Iowa legislature, titled House Study Bill 660, would affect certain scrap metal transactions, prohibit certain sales, and impose criminal penalties.

HSB 660 is explained using this language: “The bill prohibits persons from selling scrap metal to a scrap metal dealer without providing identification and certain information such as a permanent address. The bill prevents scrap metal dealers from making on the spot payment to persons selling scrap metal if the transaction is for more than $300 or if it is for copper or aluminum wire 3/8-inch or more in size. The bill requires scrap metal dealers to keep records of transactions for at least two years and to provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request.

“The bill imposes criminal penalties for violations. A person who violates the code chapter is guilty of a simple misdemeanor, and a person who does so three or more times in a two-year period is guilty of a serious misdemeanor. A simple misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than 30 days or a fine of at least $65, but not more than $625, or by both. A serious misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than one year and a fine of at least $315, but not more than $1,875.”

While Byron continues his effort with Iowa legislators, there are similar efforts in other states to stem the tide of copper thefts.

ARIZONA HOUSE BILL 2314

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), Arizona House Bill 2314, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2007, requires Arizona scrap metal dealers to “record the identity of sellers of non-ferrous metals to include photo, driver license information and fingerprint, when the transaction is over $25. Additionally, a description and type of metal will be recorded.

“Upon completing the transaction, the scrap metal dealers will be required to send the information to DPS within 24 hours for data storage. DPS analysts will maintain the database and provide accurate information to local, county, and state detectives for investigations relating to theft of non-ferrous metals from businesses and individuals.

“The passing and implementation of House Bill 2314 adds additional language to existing law under Arizona Revised Statutes 44-1642, 1644, and 1646 and requirements for reporting and storage of information. With the increasing value of copper and other metals, thieves have added these items to their shopping list of merchandise. Metal theft has increased throughout the state and has affected commerce in construction, transportation, and private industry.”

TEXAS SB 1154 AND HB 1766

The legislature adopted these different bills last fall. Senate Bill 1154 was passed to curtail thieves from turning to second-hand dealers to sell stolen metals. The bill requires more rigorous records to be kept regarding the sale of second-hand metals and further defines what materials are regulated. The bill also increases the penalty for sellers who falsify records or knowingly sell stolen regulated materials.

House Bill 1766 provides that theft of a wiring cable that consists of at least 50 percent aluminum, bronze, or copper metals, and has a value of less than $20,000, is a state jail felony.

Restricting the sale of such items doesn’t mean they can’t be sold, just that the person must be authorized to sell them with a letter from a manufacturer or a licensed repair firm. These laws were given special significance last fall when a Texas legislator shot a man who was allegedly stealing copper pipes from a new home the lawmaker was constructing.

ALABAMA TAKES ACTION

In September, Alabama banned cash sales of scrap metal that total more than $100 and now requires anyone selling scrap metal to provide a government-issued identification card and other contact information.

State Rep. Randy Wood, D-Athens, sponsored the legislation after hearing from a local pastor whose church’s five air conditioners were torn apart. The thieves removed copper wiring from the units, inflicting $23,000 in damages. Woods is now considering introducing a bill in the legislature that would fight and possibly limit the number of thefts in Alabama involving copper.

GAINING MOMENTUM ACROSS THE U.S.

According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and Stateline.org, states that enacted laws this year on scrap-metal theft are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Virginia. The West Virginia Legislature also passed a bill, but it was vetoed by Gov. Joe Manchin (D).

One Florida HVACR contractor lamented on how copper thefts have had an impact on his community. Ed Miller of the Snyder Air Conditioning Co., Jacksonville, Fla., recently posted his comments at the Service Roundtable Website (www.serviceroundtable.com).

“I had an insurance adjuster call this morning to price what a repair would be for fixing copper and electric to a condensing unit,” Miller said.

“Someone stole the whole condenser, but the problem is the owner only had vandalism insurance, not theft insurance. The insurance company was only going to pay for the repair of copper and electric to the unit because the persons took the whole condenser.

“If the thief had left some of the unit they would have paid for repair. This poor owner got the wrong thief. Insurance companies always seem to have a way out.”

For an up-to-date listing of the laws enacted by each state, visit www.ncsl.org.

Publication date: 05/05/2008  

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