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New Law Aimed to Crack Down on Scrap Metal Theft

Michigan law enforcement officers and prosecutors will have new tools to fight metal thieves under bipartisan legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder. The new law, years in the making, caps direct cash transactions for metal at $25 and requires scrap yards to mail payments to an address provided by the seller of commonly stolen items: catalytic converters, air conditioners and copper wiring.

The provisions are designed to discourage quick-fixes for criminals and provide a paper trail to aid metal theft investigations in communities across the state.”We cannot allow metal thieves to damage our homes, farms, utilities, businesses, schools and other public properties,” Snyder said in a statement. “By damaging traffic signals, street lights and road signs, these criminals endanger Michiganders.”

Snyder signed the bill during an afternoon press conference in Lansing, where he was joined by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and former state Rep. Lisa Howze, who now works as chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Snyder signed companion legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) back in December.Urban cities like Detroit, Flint and Saginaw have been hit hard by metal theft in recent years, and sponsoring state Rep. Paul Muxlow (R-BrownCity) said thieves have also damaged rural communities by stealing agricultural equipment and wind turbine components.

Michigan metal theft crimes nearly tripled between 2011 and 2012, according to the state police. The state ranked 10th in the nation for scrap metal insurance claims in a recent study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), who has been pushing for scrap metal reform for several years and twice had her own catalytic converter stolen, joined Snyder in Lansing but said she remains concerned that the new law does not go far enough. Tlaib fears that thieves will work around the $25 cap on cash transactions by taking stolen goods to multiple recycling yards on multiple days.

She had pushed to ban all cash transactions, but the metal recycling industry fought against that change as an overly onerous requirement, and the legislation nearly stalled out late last year.

The new law will also require scrap yards to take photos or video of all materials they buy, take a photo of the seller, record the names of any employees who purchase metal and keep other records that can be accessed during investigations.

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