Proposed bills aim to end Georgia’s high national metal theft ranking

mlee@macon.comMarch 24, 2012 

ATLANTA -- Insurers get more metal theft claims from Georgia than almost any other state in the country, no matter the size. That insurance cost is one of the reasons state legislators have spent the year wrangling and negotiating over two different metal theft bills. They only have a few more days to decide or lose the chance for this year.

Georgia ranked only behind Ohio and Texas in total metal theft claims from 2009 to 2011, according to a new study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry body that fights fraud. That’s about 15 claims for every 100,000 Georgians, the fifth-highest rate in the country.

It’s so bad, “I can’t insure a country church any more,” says insurance agent and state Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland. He’s the author of a new law about stolen metal that looks like it may beat out other proposals.

Scrap metal sellers can only be paid by check or electronic transfer under Shaw’s bill. That’s an attempt to end stolen metal being a conduit to quick cash.

Air conditioner coils could only legally be bought from people who are legitimate HVAC workers. And metal buyers will need to send a photo and description of everything they buy to their county sheriff’s office, to be put in a statewide database visible to all law enforcement.

However, the Senate has passed a longer bill. Theirs would slow down cash-for-metal even more by delaying payment for 14 days, and then sending it by mail.

They also ban buying grave markers from anyone who is not in the funerary business.

The House may have negotiated to get the shorter version. State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, told his Judiciary Non-Civil Committee last week that he’s conferred with the Senate bill author and that he expects formal agreement to Shaw’s bill in a conference committee “transaction that will take about 30 seconds I hope.”

But that’s just the first step. The edits still need formal approval by both the state House and Senate. Georgia’s annual state legislative session ends Thursday.

Last year, a task force formed by the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office cut metal theft by about 12 percent in about nine weeks of focused work. Lt. George Meadows, task force lead investigator, said he hesitates to talk about how exactly they did it, because crooks “are starting to learn from our strategies.”

Like Georgia, Ohio is working on new metal theft laws. Their legislature is considering barring dealers from buying metal from anyone who refuses to have their photo taken.

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