Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 10, 2012

Junk dealers — Legislation targeting sales a necessity

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— There is a growing belief by many fighting to stem the growing tide of copper thefts that controlling the epidemic will require tougher laws regulating those who actually purchase the stolen scrap metal.

That’s why legislation backed by nine West Virginia senators is an important step in the right direction. Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, the bill’s chief sponsor, argues that copper thefts are becoming an “epidemic” in the Mountain State. He is correct. As we’ve seen from recent headlines, copper thieves are hitting everything from telephone lines to manhole covers. And they are endangering public safety with their reckless actions.

Snyder’s bill seeks to throw up a roadblock where copper is fenced at scrap metal dealers. Simply put, it states that no junk dealer may buy any metal that is “reasonably” recognized as stolen.

“It bans the purchase of copper that’s been burned,” a co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, told the Register-Herald in Beckely. “We have in some areas where we live thieves tearing down telephone lines in broad daylight.”

According to Browning, a day normally doesn’t pass in southern West Virginia when he doesn’t get a call from a constituent who cannot use a residential telephone because thieves have vandalized the lines.

In addition to Browning and Snyder, the legislation also is co-sponsored by Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall; Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley; Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette; Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton; Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel; and Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier.

Snyder said Frontier recently reported that the company gets hit every 36 hours by thieves who can convert copper at $4 a pound.

“Not only are homeowners put in harm’s way if they need to call emergency services, but the thieves jeopardize themselves in the process, Browning added. “You can’t tell if the line you’re pulling down has got 40,000 volts of electricity in it. People have been electrocuted doing it.”

Under the proposed legislation, anyone found guilty of buying metal that knowingly has been stolen would be punished by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000 for a first offense. A second offense becomes a felony, punishable by a prison term of up to three years, and a maximum $5,000 fine, or both.

We see no reason why this necessary, and good common sense measure, shouldn’t be passed by the Senate, as well as the House. And it should be signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

It is imperative that we explore all legislative options available to combat the epidemic of copper thefts. And this includes cracking down on the scrap dealers who are knowingly purchasing stolen copper.