Tenn. legislation would crack down on scrap metal theft

Hank Hayes • Jan 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A new legislative push to rein in precious and scrap metal theft in Tennessee was outlined before the state Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, detailed the legislation, which would require scrap metal dealers to register with the state and fine those who don’t.

The bill also would give those who trespass and steal metals on construction or utility sites up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“People are stealing copper all over Tennessee and reselling it to make a profit,” Kyle told the committee. “In the United States, 46 percent of all copper goes to building construction. ... The price of copper per pound has increased from about $1.75 to almost $3.25 in 2006. This rapid increase is due to the worldwide construction boom led by China. The bottom line is that copper theft leads to higher construction costs. ... Copper theft is a national problem.”

Kyle, who noted that metal theft reports more than doubled in Memphis from 2006 to 2007, said more than 20 states have filed legislation addressing the issue.

The Tennessee bill calls for scrap metal dealers to be registered effective Oct. 1 by submitting photo identification and thumbprint.

It also calls for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance to study developing a “No Buy List” of offenders prohibited from purchasing scrap metal.

In a related area, Tri-Cities governments have endorsed legislation requiring a transaction record to be kept for purchasing used catalytic converters.

“Catalytic converters on vehicle exhaust systems contain expensive precious metals — platinum, which is worth up to $1,200 an ounce; palladium, which can fetch $320 an ounce; and rhodium, valued up to $6,000 an ounce,” the governments joint legislative policy document said. “These devices have become easy documents for thieves. With a couple of quick cuts by a small battery-powered saw, a catalytic converter can be stolen from a vehicle and on its way to a scrap yard within a couple of minutes. There are reports of junk dealers buying truckloads of catalytic converters with no questions asked of the seller.”

State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, sponsored a bill last year to add catalytic converters to the list of items requiring identification of the seller and keeping purchase records. The bill passed the House unanimously but failed to get out of the Senate.

Lundberg was part of a special study committee crafting the new bill, which Kyle said has been endorsed by law enforcement groups and the home building industry.

State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, suggested that drug abuse is driving the metal theft industry and asked Kyle what other policy moves might be needed.

“This is kind of like killing roaches with a hammer,” Kyle answered during the committee meeting. “You kill one, and four or five more come out.”

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The bill’s number is SB 2400.

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