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Legislators consider tougher laws on metal theft

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Ronald Ramsey

ATLANTA -- Sen. Ronald Ramsey has co-sponsored legislation in the Georgia Senate that is aimed at curbing metal theft in Georgia.

Ramsey, D-Decatur, represents Rockdale County and parts of DeKalb County in the state senate. He joined Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, and several Georgia House members Thursday in announcing the bill, according to a statement by the Georgia Senate.

Secondary metal theft has increased in recent years in Georgia as prices for scrap metal like copper rise. The price for copper has topped $3.29 per pound which Unterman said was a big reason for the increase in metal theft in the state.

Law enforcement in Rockdale and Newton counties have dealt with an increase in metal theft in recent months, particularly with the inventory of unoccupied houses due to foreclosure.

The Conyers Police Department also began a program last year where officers work with homeowner associations and neighborhood watch programs to mark the valuable metals inside AC units with bright blue neon paint and then attach a sticker to the exterior of the unit warning would-be thieves that the metals have been marked.

"Some agencies north of us have had success in battling the copper problem by going into neighborhoods and working with homeowners, actually opening up the air conditioning units and spray painting the copper parts that thieves are using to resell," Lt. Jackie Dunn told the Citizen in November.

Dunn said that once the copper is marked, even if it is stolen, thieves have a harder time selling the metal.

The measure proposed by Unterman, Ramsey and the other legislators in the current General Assembly session would further address how recyclers handle secondary metals.

"I believe that passing this legislation is a step in the right direction towards putting a stop to metal theft in Georgia," Unterman said in the statement. "With stricter measures in place to regulate the scrap metal industry, we are one step closer to curbing this growing epidemic and protecting the property of businesses, individuals, and government entities."

The bill will be introduced in the coming days, and Unterman believes it will garner bipartisan support in both chambers. If passed, the law would require the following measures:

-- Prohibit cash payments for purchases;

-- Require permits for recycling centers and persons selling regulated metals;

-- Require thumbprints of regulated metals sellers will be required;

-- Create an electronic database to maintain records about regulated metals sellers and purchasers;

-- Provide law enforcement access to the database;

-- Prohibit local government jurisdiction from being superseded;

-- Require statements affirming valid ownership of vehicles will be requirement for scrap transactions;

-- Provide transaction records of scrap vehicles must be maintained and provided to the state of Georgia with two days of the transaction.

In addition, a person selling regulated metals more than three times per calendar month must obtain a permit from the sheriff in the county of residence. If the person is not a Georgia resident then a permit must be obtained in the county where the recycling facility is located.

Last year, South Carolina passed similar legislation enforcing tougher regulations on the scrap metal industry.

Georgia legislators passed laws addressing metal theft in recent years.

In 2007, SB 203 was enacted to impose stricter penalties for secondary metal thefts. Because of this legislation, metal theft is now considered a felony punishable by law.

In 2009, SB 82 was enacted to further strengthen metal theft laws by adding additional requirements on recyclers regarding transaction records and delay requirements for cash payments.