A bill designed to address the growing incidences of copper theft in Oklahoma has cleared its first legislative hurdle. Senate Bill 472, by Senator Cliff Branan, was approved by the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday.
“This crime can actually put people’s lives at risk, especially the elderly, because it can leave them without air conditioning and power at the worst possible times—when the temperatures are in the triple digits,” Branan said.
Last summer, communities across the state saw a dramatic increase in copper theft, which was the result of the price of used copper increasing from about $1.50 a pound to more than $4 a pound. During the hottest days of the season, many residences and businesses were left without air conditioning after the copper was stolen from their cooling units. When thieves target the copper at electrical substations, entire power grids can be knocked out.
“Obviously, stealing is already a crime in Oklahoma. This bill helps us create a better paper trail to help catch those thieves,” Branan said. “We want to make sure junk dealers are keeping more thorough records on who is selling them used copper, and crack down on those dealers who don’t follow the law.”
Junk dealers would be required to keep detailed descriptions of the purchase of any “recycled” copper. In addition to a photo ID of the seller, they’d have to maintain a current registry that would include the date of purchase.
Dealers would also have to include a detailed description of the material or property, along with a statement from the seller of what the property is, how it was originally used and other information. In addition, the measure would increase the holding period for specific amounts of copper from ten to fifteen days.
The bill also increases the fines for junk dealers who don’t follow state law on copper sales. A first offense would increase from $50 to $500, and a second offense would carry a fine of $2,500. A subsequent offense would carry a fine of $2,500 plus the forfeiture of the junk dealer’s license.
“I’ve been told that last year alone, about half of the commercial claims filed with insurance companies in Oklahoma City were related to damage from copper theft,” Branan said. “Someone stealing $40 worth of copper can cause tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. If we can reduce copper theft, conceivably we could help keep down insurance costs as well.”
SB 472 now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.