State legislative leaders voted to advance a bill Monday that would address the problem of copper theft and illegal sales by instituting changes in regulations governing the sale and purchase of copper.
“I’m happy to see that the legislative leaders agreed that copper theft is a serious problem that needs more attention,” said Rep. Tom Longstaff, who submitted the bill on behalf of Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. “This bill is a first step in addressing a problem that is rapidly becoming a threat to public safety.”
Current law prohibits the sale of copper obtained illegally and prevents junk metal dealers from paying cash for copper. Longstaff’s bill would close a loophole in this process that allows junk metal dealers to cash checks, making it harder for copper theft to go untracked. It also proposes tougher penalties for offenders.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, copper theft is on the rise nationally and has increased dramatically in Maine over the last few years due to the economic downturn and rising copper prices. In Maine prescription drug abuse has also aggravated the problem, according to Col. Robert Williams of the Maine State Police, who reported nearly all copper pipe and wire theft is related to prescription drug abuse.
Recent incidents have raised the level of concern. In February, a Maine man was sentenced to four months in prison for stealing copper wire from a US Naval Telecommunications station in Cutler. In July nearly 4,800 people lost power in Brooksville after a theft of copper wire from a Bangor Hydro Electric Company substation required emergency repairs.
The bill moved forward after a 7-3 vote during today’s hearing of new bills by the Legislative Council, which is made up of the 10 Republican and Democratic leaders of the State Legislature. The Council must approve any new bills for the second session of the legislature, which is typically reserved for top priority or emergency measures.
The bill will be taken up by lawmakers in January during the second session of the 125th Legislature.