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Policy: Law

Michigan House OKs metal theft bill after deal

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Photo - A classroom at the closed Southwestern High School in Detroit has had its pipes torn down and its blackboards ripped off the walls and left on the floor, Feb. 18, 2014. Five years after Michigan targeted copper thefts plaguing cities like Detroit and disrupting railroads and utilities, plans to better restrict sales of stolen scrap metal are caught in a legislative fight despite agreement among political leaders and law enforcement that action is needed. The legislation would tighten rules in what can be a lucrative scrap metal market, giving police and prosecutors more tools to bolster cases against thieves. Scrapyards would have to take photos or video of metal they buy. Sellers could only be paid by check or money order, or they could redeem their money at an onsite ATM that takes photos of them getting the cash. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Katie Bailey) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT
A classroom at the closed Southwestern High School in Detroit has had its pipes torn down and its blackboards ripped off the walls and left on the floor, Feb. 18, 2014. Five years after Michigan targeted copper thefts plaguing cities like Detroit and disrupting railroads and utilities, plans to better restrict sales of stolen scrap metal are caught in a legislative fight despite agreement among political leaders and law enforcement that action is needed. The legislation would tighten rules in what can be a lucrative scrap metal market, giving police and prosecutors more tools to bolster cases against thieves. Scrapyards would have to take photos or video of metal they buy. Sellers could only be paid by check or money order, or they could redeem their money at an onsite ATM that takes photos of them getting the cash. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Katie Bailey) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan scrapyards that buy copper wire, air conditioners and catalytic converters will only be able to pay sellers by mail under a deal brokered Wednesday by legislators attempting to crack down on sales of stolen scrap metal.

The state House's 98-12 approval of legislation signaled the end of a monthslong dispute over the measure intended to help law enforcement solve and prosecute cases. The Senate on Thursday is expected send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder, who has listed it as a priority.

"I think it's a compromise we can live with. Our cities have a good feeling about it," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Muxlow of Brown City.

The agreement caps more than 2½ years of work to update a 2008 anti-scrap metal theft law that detractors said wasn't working.

Scrapyards will have to take photos or video of metal they buy and the seller under the legislation. Sellers could only be paid by check or money order, or they could redeem their money at an onsite ATM.

Knowingly selling or buying street light poles, guardrails, traffic signs, cemetery plaques and railroad equipment generally will be off limits, too.

The sticking point had been a proposal to make people wait for payment for copper wire, air conditioners and catalytic converters.

The House in October approved a three-day waiting period. The Senate, though, voted to make delayed payment unnecessary if the scrap/recycling industry instead created a real-time database of each purchase of the pertinent items.

Under the compromise, scrapyards will only be able to buy copper wire, air conditioning components and catalytic converters by mailing a check, money order or ATM-like card to sellers unless payment is under $25. The database could still be established, but it won't be required.

In Michigan, especially Detroit, thieves are targeting abandoned dwellings, construction sites, railroads and utilities to strip copper wiring, air conditioners and other metal.

The state had the ninth-highest number of insurance claims for metal theft in the U.S. in recent years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Metropolitan Detroit ranked fifth-worst among urban areas.

Despite existing requirements that dealers maintain records and sellers show a driver's license, law enforcement officials have said successfully prosecuting cases is difficult.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, voted for the bill while saying she has concerns because it allows payment on the spot — with the ATM cards — for the most-stolen items as long as it is for less than $25. She said thieves could stay below the threshold by visiting multiple scrapyards a day and later told reporters that groups representing police chiefs and sheriffs oppose the legislation as a result.

"I encourage my colleagues to support this bill today, but in a year — if it doesn't work — to continue to revisit this and do it right," Tlaib said.

The state police will have to report on the law's effectiveness to the governor and legislative leaders by July 2016.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the House vote was "great news" for his city and other communities struggling with illegal scrappers.

"Not only does it create an important paper trail for law enforcement, it removes many of the incentives, such as immediate cash payment, that have made it all too easy for scrappers to profit from the dismantling of our city," he said in a statement.

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Online:

House Bill 4593: http://1.usa.gov/1f6d65n

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 .

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