The general manager of a Shawnee scrap metal yard says a new Oklahoma law aimed at deterring copper thieves will level the playing field for legitimate scrap businesses as new regulations will make it more difficult for thieves to sell their stolen loot.
House Bill 1740, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, becomes law Nov. 1. It requires all scrap metal businesses to be licensed through the state and forces dealers to check identifications of those selling large amounts of scrap and then pay them with a check rather than in cash.
“The main focus is to eliminate the smaller yards that are knowingly purchasing a lot of stolen materials,” said Bill Staggs, general manger of Shawnee’s Ball Pipe and Supply. He said they are in favor of the new law.
“We welcome it — it will level the playing field and eliminate fly-by-night operations,” Staggs said. “I feel it’s going to eliminate the less-than-reputable scrap dealers in Oklahoma.”
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said this new law is a “huge deal” to help combat the rural copper thefts seen all over this state, including Pottawatomie County.
“We can chase copper thieves all day,” Booth said, but the new regulations will mean those criminals won’t find their bounty so easy to sell.
The bill prohibits a scrap metal dealer from paying cash in purchasing more than $1,000 of copper and requires the dealer to issue a check after establishing the identity of the seller.
The new law also increases the penalty for sellers providing false information for a scrap metal logbook, which becomes a felony punishable by a $5,000, imprisonment for up to two years or both fine and imprisonment. The new law also requires scrap metal dealers to be licensed through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
“Copper theft is becoming widespread in rural communities in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, who was one of the authors of the bill. “The best way to curtail it is to address scrap metal dealers, who purchase the metal. Ensuring that they are properly licensed and that they must verify the identity of those individuals coming to them with large quantities of copper will help curb this crime. We are also increasing penalties as a further deterrent.”
Other than the new check requirement over cash, Staggs said Ball Pipe already requires a state driver license for every transaction, even for those bringing in aluminum cans.
John Boone, who is president of the Oklahoma Recyclers Association, said he “lived, ate and breathed” this bill for the past two years as part of a copper theft task force, where he and others determined that copper thefts continue because, “In simplest terms…a thief only steals what he can sell,” Boone said.
Page 2 of 2 - And because they said there are many scrap dealers who don’t follow the law, basically “turning their heads when illegal loads come in,” those in the scrap industry decided they needed to regulate themselves and their peers.
Anyone wanting to become a scrap dealer today can send $20 to the Oklahoma Tax Commission for a sales tax permit, Boone said. But when the new law takes effect, the “meat” of the bill includes a restrictive and comprehensive licensing permit for all scrap dealers under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture, which is also the only state agency to test and certify all weighing scales used by metal businesses in the state, he said.
Boone, who also operates metal businesses in cities including Perry and Enid, said legitimate scrap dealers “won’t have to change their business model” with this new law.
“But if they’re breaking the law and are a shady dealer, they’ll have to change their whole business model,” Boone said. “These guys buying the materials are assisting the criminals.”
Until the law takes effect, though, Booth said things could get a little busy for law enforcement.
“There could be a lot of copper thefts from now until Nov. 1,” the sheriff said, adding he’ll have deputies on high alert in the coming months.