Haslam signs bill to curb metal theft

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From staff reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy to reduce the growing problem of metal theft in Tennessee.

The new law puts stiffer penalties into place on both the selling and the purchasing of stolen metals. Tracy of Shelbyville got the bill passed in the final days of the 2012 session.

It also gives the Department of Commerce and Insurance more enforcement authority over scrap dealer registration.

"Soaring prices for copper, aluminum and other metals make items containing them an attractive target," Tracy said. "Stolen metals can have great value when sold to a scrap metal dealer who arranges for the metal to be melted and reshaped for other uses.

"With the rising incidence of metal theft," he said, "this new law provides an extra measure of security for families and businesses that have been victims of metal theft."

Metal thieves have hit homes, businesses, churches, construction sites, and public property in Tennessee, like utilities.

For example, early this year four suspects were arrested by Marshall County Sheriff's Detective Tony Nichols in connection with the theft of over $27,000-worth of metal construction forms and brackets from Brown Builders' storage site at the abandoned gas station on the corner of State Route 373 and Reese Road, just west of I-65.

Criminal recycling has received much publicity in recent years as thefts increase and thieves get bolder. Metal theft in America has become so lucrative that often thieves even risk their lives to strip copper wire and pipes from homes, utilities and electrical facilities.

"The scrap recycling industry in Tennessee is working to be a part of the solution to material theft," Tracy said. "This partnership is very important to really attack the problem. In the last two years, 18 state legislatures have passed bills to crack down on metal theft and any unscrupulous dealers that might aid them."

The new state law prohibits a person from selling scrap metal that he or she knows to be stolen. It says that just knowing stolen scrap metal was sold shall be punished as theft and graded according to the value of the metal. The legislation creates a Class E "fine only" felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, for selling or attempting to sell metal to a scrap metal dealer if the aggregate value of the metal in its original condition and the costs incurred in repairing and recovering any property damaged in the theft exceeds $500.

Similarly, the law makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a dealer to knowingly or intentionally violate the law, unless the metal is in its original and undamaged condition. If the value of the metal, in addition to any costs for repairs exceeds $500, it is a Class E "fine only" felony.

The law also makes it a misdemeanor for someone to engage in the business of buying scrap metal without being registered unless the metal is in its original and undamaged condition. Unregistered dealers convicted of violating this provision face a Class A misdemeanor under the statute.

Finally, the bill authorizes the Commerce Department to investigate a verified, written complaint against any scrap metal dealer alleged to have committed a violation when evidence is presented. The Department must provide notice regarding any hearings and sanctions involving scrap metal dealers.

The law takes effect July 1.