Bill aimed at copper thieves gets support

CARSON CITY — With copper prices expected to rise this summer, police, scrap metal dealers and utilities urged state senators today to pass a bill designed to make it easier to locate and prosecute those who steal copper and other scrap metal.

"What happened last year is the price of copper, like many commodities, went to heights none of us could justify," said Scott Stolberg, the head of a coalition of eight scrap metal dealers in Nevada. "It made the stealing of copper very popular."

Copper then fell from a high of $4.10 per pound  in July to $1.35 in November, but it has begun rising again.

Copper was selling at $1.94 per pound today in New York.

"Now the profit motive has started to come back," Stolberg told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He and at least a dozen other witnesses urged the committee to back Assembly Bill 233, a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and passed unanimously in the Assembly.

Under the bill, scrap metal dealers would be required to get names, addresses and driver’s license information from people who sell them copper and other scrap metals.

Payments to the seller would be made by check if the metal sold was worth at least $150.

No one testified against the bill, but Judiciary Chairman Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, said he would wait until a future work session to act on the proposal.

Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, expressed concern that the information given scrap metal dealers might be used in identity theft.

Stolberg, however, said name and address information would be restricted only to the scrap metal dealers and police.

Josh Martinez, a Las Vegas police lobbyist, said there were nearly 900 incidents of utilities and construction companies in Clark County reporting theft of scrap metal last year.

It is difficult to prosecute offenders because it is hard to prove the copper wire someone sells is the same wire stolen from a utility, he said.

He said in one incident last year in southwest Las Vegas, people saw their lights begin to flicker and spied someone actually pulling wire from a utility line. Police arrested that offender, but such arrests are rare, he said.

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