New legislation would stiffen penalties for copper theft

Posted February 17, 2011 3:39 pm | Filed under News, State/Regional News

New legislation making copper theft a felony instead of a misdemeanor was introduced last week in the South Carolina General Assembly by House Minority Leader Rep. Harry Ott (D-Calhoun).

Rep. Harry Ott (D-Calhoun)

In an attempt to deter copper theft, Ott explains that the bill would stiffen penalties associated with stealing and illegally purchasing copper.

To slap somebody on the wrist as a misdemeanor when they’ve done thousands of dollars of damage to a church, or an ag. community, or to a house, or to anybody is unacceptable.

The bill would not allow buyers to use cash when purchasing copper. Ott says he believes it’s important to get the “cash element” out of the process.

If we make them use checks, then the sheriff can go and trace the checks to see if we have people coming in every few days selling copper. So, it’s a reporting mechanism that gives the sheriffs another tool to see who’s selling copper.

The bill would also require a person to obtain a permit in order to sell copper, or other “nonferrous” metals. Ott says he doesn’t expect the scrap yards to become policing agents.

What I do expect to happen because of this bill, is the scrapyards are going to have to keep better records. When somebody comes in to sell copper, the scrap yard will have the responsibility to see whether or not they have that permit. It they don’t have that permit, and they cannot buy that copper, then those people have to go and seek permission at the sheriff’s office.

Ott feels the process he’s introduced in the bill gives the system more checks and balances,.

Right now, anybody can present copper at the scrap yard, sell it, get cash, go do whatever they want to do. I’m trying to put some bumps in the road so we can slow this process down, because we’ve got to stem the theft of copper in the state of South Carolina.

While Ott admits no bill is perfect when it’s first introduced, he wants to make a start in stemming the theft of copper in South Carolina.

And this, he says is a start.