0

New law targets metal thieves

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Supporters of a new law in Georgia hope the legislation will help to combat metal thefts by imposing new restrictions on the sale of scrap to recyclers.

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed Senate Bill 82 on May 5.

Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Perdue, said the new law enables local and state law enforcement agencies to "crack down" on metal thefts.

Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation supported the legislation, and said it requires recyclers to pay for copper and related materials by check, rather than cash, unless the dealer and seller agree to hold the transaction for a minimum of 24 hours.

Under the new law, recyclers must also make a photocopy of the seller's identification, in order to give police and prosecutors aid in building criminal cases, Central Georgia EMC said.

"When the price of metal went up and the economy slipped, it increased the incentive for people to break the law," said Schrimpf. "This bill will help police to catch those who are stealing metal, and will prevent the act from occurring in the first place."

Sponsors of the bill included state Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Reps. Mark Williams (R-Jesup) and Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City). The legislation also had the backing of AT&T, the Cable Television Association and the City of Atlanta, according to a written statement from the Central Georgia EMC.

A 2007 statute regarding metals theft made the crime a felony in Georgia, Central Georgia EMC's Manager of Marketing Christy Chewning said, but did little to curb the occurrence of such incidents. She said copper thefts went up 269 percent in 2008, compared with the previous year.

"Making it a felony didn't stop it," said Chewning. "This law is another step in trying to eliminate these thefts. We're clamping down on unlicensed scrap-metal dealers, who don't do what they should by asking questions."

Chewning described the new law as a "positive move," adding that it will help to reduce the number of injuries resulting from thefts.

"People are cutting fences and taking copper out of [electric] substations," she said. "It's amazing they don't kill themselves doing this, but the next person who comes in could be hurt or killed."

Central Georgia EMC and Georgia EMC, along with the Georgia Transmission Corporation, have created a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved with metals theft. A copper theft hotline has also been established, for anyone who suspects such thefts.

The hotline number is 1-877-732-8717.