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Bill tackles metal thefts

Sunday, February 24, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Thanks to a new bill in Virginia, it is likely that metal thieves soon will have a more difficult time profiting from their stolen wares, according to Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell.

“I am pleased to say Del. Don Merricks’ legislation, House Bill 1481, passed the Senate unanimously after passing the House unanimously,” Bushnell said. “That bill is the product of a whole lot of work by a whole lot of people.”

The bill is designed to limit metal thefts by placing new regulations on scrap metal purchasers, which are defined as purchasing more than $20,000 worth of scrap metal in a year.

Now that the bill has passed through the Senate and House, it is headed to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell. Bushnell said that “although the administration formally and officially has not been involved in (the bill) ... the state police at the very highest levels have been extremely involved in this,” and he is hopeful McDonnell will sign the bill.

The bill’s new regulations will require scrap metal purchasers to keep detailed photographic records of any “proprietary” items they buy. Proprietary items are those the average citizen normally would not have in their possession, Bushnell said, such as manhole covers, aluminum bleacher seats and extremely high gauge copper wire.

The bill offers provisions for people who are presumed to lawfully own these proprietary items, Bushnell said.

The bill also requires scrap metal purchasers to maintain records for 30 days after the item is purchased. If requested by a law enforcement officer, purchasers are required by the bill to submit those records to the officer.

Bushnell said the majority of scrap metal purchasers and sellers are honest people, and scrap metal purchasers do record some seller information. However, it’s far too easy to “almost anonymously sell stolen metal,” he said. “The name of the person who is selling the metal is preserved, but frequently the metal is described generically ... Frequently, it’s impossible to trace the metal to the seller.”

Law enforcement sometimes is able to catch metal thieves before they sell their scrap — sometimes while they’re still at the recycling center, Bushnell said — but under the current regulations, if the investigation takes more than a day, it often is a lost cause.

“The next day may as well be last century,” Bushnell said. “The scrap metal folks are in the business of recycling,” and by the next day, the item usually will be gone.

According to Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, metal thefts in the county have diminished slightly due to a combination of increased scrutiny from the sheriff’s office, the department working with scrap buyers and higher awareness of metal theft in the community.

Martinsville Police Capt. Eddie Cassady said scrap theft remains a problem in Martinsville, and that “as long as these prices for scrap stay high, I’m afraid we’re still going to see problems with it.”

Both hope the new bill will help curb the problem.

Metal theft is a major problem across the state, Bushnell said, and “I’m very happy to have teamed up with local legislators to push this thing through. It was the Southside community that got the ball rolling.”

The bill was initiated by state Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, who put together a work group last spring that included state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, Bushnell, representatives from industries that have been victimized by metal theft, law enforcement and others. Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania, patroned the bill, Bushnell said.

“This whole process has frankly been a real demonstration that when people are determined to work together to address a problem, (they) do so,” Bushnell said. “It’s been exciting to be a part of it.

“I’m delighted that the General Assembly, when presented with a step to alleviate this problem, unanimously passed it,” he added.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/aopucrr to read the full text of the bill.

 

 
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