Governor Bill Haslam recently signed into law legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), which aims to reduce the growing problem of metal theft in Tennessee. The legislation, which passed in the final days of the 2012 session, puts stiffer penalties into place on both the selling and the purchasing ends of transactions involving stolen metals. It also gives the Department of Commerce and Insurance more enforcement authority over its scrap dealer registration program.
“Soaring prices for copper, aluminum and other metals make items containing them an attractive target,” said Tracy. “Stolen metals can have great value when sold to a scrap metal dealer who arranges for the metal to be melted and reshaped for other uses. With the rising incidence of metal theft in Tennessee, this new law provides an extra measure of security for families and businesses that have been victims of metal theft.”
Tracy said metal thieves have hit homes, businesses, churches, construction sites, and public property in Tennessee, like utilities. Criminal recycling has received much publicity in recent years worldwide as thefts rise and thieves grow bolder. Metal theft in the U.S. has become so lucrative that often thieves even risk their lives to strip copper wire and pipes from homes, utilities and electrical facilities.
“The scrap recycling industry in Tennessee is working to be a part of the solution to material theft,” added Senator Tracy. “This partnership is very important to really attack the problem. In the last two years, 18 state legislatures have passed bills to crack down on metal theft and any unscrupulous dealers that might aid them.”
The new Tennessee law prohibits a person from selling scrap metal that he or she knows to be stolen. It prescribes that the knowing sale of stolen scrap metal shall be punished as theft and graded according to the value of the metal. The legislation creates a Class E “fine only” felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, for selling or attempting to sell metal to a scrap metal dealer if the aggregate value of the metal in its original condition and the costs incurred in repairing and recovering any property damaged in the theft exceeds $500.
Similarly, the law makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a dealer to knowingly or intentionally violate the law, unless the metal is in its original and undamaged condition. If the value of the metal, in addition to any costs for repairs exceeds $500, it is a Class E “fine only” felony.
In addition, the new law makes it a misdemeanor offense for someone to engage in the business of buying scrap metal without being registered unless the metal is in its original and undamaged condition. Unregistered dealers convicted of violating this provision face a Class A misdemeanor under the statute.
Finally, the bill authorizes the Department of Commerce to investigate a verified, written complaint against any scrap metal dealer alleged to have committed a violation when evidence is presented. The Department must provide notice regarding any hearings and sanctions involving scrap metal dealers.
The law becomes effective on July 1.