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Bill cracks down on rise in metal theft

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar today introduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on the growing problem of metal theft.

Metal theft has jumped more than 80 percent in recent years, as thieves steal high-priced metal from critical infrastructure as well as businesses, homes, churches and even Minnesota veterans' graves - causing families pain and threatening public safety.

The Metal Theft Prevention Act would help crack down on metal thieves and make it harder for thieves to sell stolen metal. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are cosponsors of the bill.

"These thieves will stop at nothing to get this high-priced metal and make a quick buck - from damaging public infrastructure to stealing from churches and even taking brass stars from our veterans' graves," Klobuchar said. "This legislation will crack down on metal thieves, helping put them behind bars and make it more difficult for them to sell their stolen goods."

Between 2009 and 2011, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found over 25,000 insurance claims related to metal theft, an increase of 81 percent over claims made between 2006 and 2008. In a recent study, the U.S. Department of Energy found that the total value of damages to industries affected by the theft of copper wire would likely exceed over $900 million each year.

In Minnesota, the rise in metal theft has impacted communities across the state. A recent story in the Rochester Post Bulletin highlighted the rise of thefts in vacant homes, construction sites, and even a local church, where thieves targeted the copper wiring in the air conditioning units. According to a Minnesota Public Radio report, the rise in metal thefts in Mankato has contributed to its highest burglary rate in years, and in Isanti County thieves stole more than 200 brass stars from veterans' graves.

The Metal Theft Prevention Act calls for enforcement by the Attorney General and gives state attorneys general the ability to bring civil action to enforce the provisions of the legislation. It also directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review penalty guidelines as they relate to metal theft and make sure they are adequate. The bill also makes it an explicit federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.

In addition, the legislation would also make it much tougher for thieves to sell stolen metals to scrap metal dealers. It contains a "Do Not Buy" provision which bans scrap metal dealers from buying certain items unless the sellers establish, by written documentation, that they are authorized to sell the secondary metal in question. As a result of the bill, scrap metal dealers would be required to keep detailed records of secondary metal purchases for two years and make them available to law enforcement agencies. The bill would also require that purchases of scrap metal over $100 be done by check instead of cash, to further help law enforcement track down thieves. Klobuchar released similar legislation in the previous Congress.