Scrap metal bills working well, industry insiders say - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Scrap metal bills working well, industry insiders say

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Three bills passed by the Legislature in the 2012 session to curb the rash of copper thefts are working well, insiders said Monday.

Judiciary Subcommittee B, a legislative interim committee, heard from utility companies, recyclers, law enforcement and others about how Senate Bills 212 and 528 and House Bill 4345 have helped to decrease the number of copper and other scrap metal thefts across the state.

Byron Stover with Frontier Communications told the committee the number of thefts in the third quarter of 2012 was down compared with the same quarter of 2011. He said that is because of a "cognizant effort" among recyclers, law enforcement and utilities, but copper is still a target.

"The copper is still getting stolen and I'm sure there are other utilities … but I'm speaking for our company," he said.

SB 212 upgraded scrap metal thefts from a misdemeanor offense to a felony. Sammy Gray with Public Utility Services told the committee the new law hasn't been in effect long enough to get a clear picture of its success. However, he said that bill and SB 528 are good first steps to reducing future scrap metal thefts.

"We haven't had time to have felonies brought forth at this time," he said. "We think that will increase when we get the word out that it is prosecuted as a felony."

Gray said his company is working with the West Virginia State Police to track down and prosecute copper thieves.

Ronald Fisher, president of the West Virginia Recyclers Association, told the committee recyclers across the state are trying to shed the negative image copper thieves have cast on the industry. He said members of his organization are trying to follow state law and change public perception.

The new laws are working to do that. Under the laws, recyclers must be licensed, have their scales registered and calibrated according to West Virginia Division of Labor weights and measures standards, have the contact information including name and address for anyone selling scrap metal, have the vehicle identification number, make and model of all vehicles used to transport scrap metal to the recycling centers, a written statement from the owner of the scrap metal allowing the individual to sale, and a photocopy of a valid drivers license. Fisher said all information is kept on file and that allows recyclers to better work with law enforcement to track down and arrest suspected copper thieves.

"We're able to work with the police. We're able to work with the state, local and county sheriff, city, whatever," Fisher said. "We're not a law enforcement agency, but we do help them a lot."

He pointed out that, out of the tons of material West Virginia recyclers buy every year, illegally obtained scrap metal is a small percentage.