The Senate is moving to make metal theft a federal crime, with the Judiciary Committee poised to take action later this week on a bill that would impose a 10-year prison sentence on anyone caught stealing metal from telephone or cell towers, highway equipment or other critical infrastructure. Copper theft is a particular problem, with the average annual price on global markets quadrupling over the past decade.
The bill would also make it tougher to fence stolen metal by requiring more record-keeping for recycling agents, and prohibiting them from paying cash for purchases larger than $100.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who wrote the bill, said metal theft has jumped more than 80 percent in recent years, and people have stolen from homes, churches and even brass stars from veterans' graves in her home state.
"The recent rise in incidents of metal theft across the country underscores the importance of federal action to crack down on metal thieves, put them behind bars and make it more difficult for them to sell their stolen goods," she said in a statement earlier this year, after she introduced the bill.
The National Crime Insurance Bureau put the increase in theft at 36 percent from 2010 through 2012, as compared to the prior three years. That's less than the 80 percent Ms. Klobuchar cited, but it still means 33,775 claims for theft, according to the Insurance Journal.
Copper is the biggest draw, accounting for 96 percent of those filed claims, the journal reported. The metal is at record prices.
When adjusted for population, Rhode Island has the highest rate of theft of any state, while Alaska has the lowest.
The Insurance Journal said metal theft costs U.S. businesses about $1 billion a year.
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