A new law recently approved in the Georgia House and Senate aims to tackle the state’s metal theft problem.
House Bill 872, sponsored by Representative Jason Shaw, passed just after 11 p.m. March 29, according to an e-mail from Richmond County sheriff’s Investigator Kendall Brown.
Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the bill into law Monday, according to Brian Robinson, the governor’s chief of staff.
“I had so many co-signers,” Shaw said. “I feel like (Deal) will be very supportive.”
Most of the changes are seen as positive for both the recyclers and law enforcement.
The changes include the requirement for every recycler, regardless of size, to register with the local sheriff and to report all material bought to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation nightly.
“It will be a lot more paperwork,” said Chip Koplin, the president of the Georgia Recyclers Association. “But if law enforcement think it will be helpful, we’re on board.”
Recyclers will also be required to take a picture or video of every purchase and a picture of the seller. The images will eventually be held in a database and controlled by the GBI, but the program needs funding, Shaw said.
Mississippi has a similar program that cost about $125,000.
“That much worth of metal is being stolen every day,” Shaw said. “In the scheme of things, this investment will be worth it.”
Brown, who is also the coordinator of the CSRA Metal Theft Task Force, said he was happy some of his suggestions were in the bill, including the ban of selling burnt metal unless the seller has proof the items have been in a fire and having to be a licensed contractor to sell air conditioner copper.
“This bill is a great step forward in eliminating metal theft,” said Brown, who was reinstated as a metal theft investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office last June when metal prices and thefts began rising.
From June to January, Brown said he made 65 arrests, adding that he spoke to 100 to 150 people a week.
The bill’s other changes include:
• Restrictions and documentation required to sell cemetery brass, bronze and other burial objects
• Sale of trailers, motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts will require a bill of sale or other documentation
• Recyclers will be forbidden to cash their own checks on premises or use ATMs for instant cash redemption
• Additional penalties for convicted metal thieves, including restitution and forfeiture
Shaw said the bill is complicated, but it was becoming a matter of public safety. Theft of items such as manhole covers and copper wire from walls was creating safety issues.
Lee Swann, a security investigator for Georgia Transmission Cooperation, was brought in to investigate metal thefts for the energy company in 2008. Swann said in 2011 they had 133 metal thefts at their substations across Georgia, up from 70 in 2010. He said the safety issues have been a large concern.
“It’s a safety issue when criminals break into a substation and steal wire from things they don’t understand,” Swann said.
He said a lot of the time metal thieves take ground wire, which could mean when an employee comes into work, they end up electrocuted because the thief messed with the equipment.
The bill took a little less than a year to pass because there were so many parties involved, including one of the biggest industries in Georgia, Shaw said.
“Metal recycling is such a viable industry,” he said, noting it brings in nearly $4 billion a year. “We listened to all the different sides and came up with a solution everyone seems to be happy with.”
According to Koplin, there is only one issue with the bill on the recyclers’ end. Under the new law, recyclers will be required to pay vendors with either a check or a voucher for cash redeemable in three days, with the exception of the sale of aluminum cans or batteries. Previously, cash could be used as immediate payment.
Koplin said the Association does not think this part of the bill will help with metal thefts.
“A thief is a thief,” he said. “There is no proof this kind of thing has worked for other states. I just don’t think it will help.”
Koplin said there are ways around the rule, such as check cashing businesses that will give cash for checks immediately.
However, Koplin said the bill is a move in the right direction, even if it means more work for the recyclers.
“It is a good bit more record keeping,” he said. “But we think it will be helpful to law enforcement and will help with metal thefts, so we will do our part.”