RW&G

New Laws Help Municipalities Fight Metal Theft

The Governor has signed several new laws giving municipalities additional tools to fight the increased theft of metal from fire hydrants, street lamps, sewers, agricultural equipment, vehicles, and other public and private property. All of these laws create new offenses for sellers and buyers of stolen metals and other materials.

Taking effect immediately is AB 1859, which makes it a crime to buy or receive any part of a fire hydrant or fire department connection if it is known that the part has been stolen.

Taking effect on December 1, 2008, are AB 844 and SB 691, which expand the reporting requirements for junk purchasers, impose waiting periods for payments, and increase liability for metal thieves. Junk dealers (buyers of any kind of scrap metal or secondhand machinery) are already required to keep written records of purchases – including the time and date of the purchases, a description of the items purchased, and the seller's vehicle identification and license number. Under these new laws, purchasers must file these records in monthly reports (or weekly reports if there is suspicion of criminal activity) with the local chief of police or sheriff. The knowing violation of these recordkeeping requirements is a misdemeanor.

AB 844 and SB 691 also change the way junk dealers pay for copper, copper alloys, stainless steel or aluminum. Dealers cannot make payments for these metals unless they obtain a photograph or video of the junk seller and the material being purchased, a copy of the seller's identification, and the seller's thumbprint. In addition, payment can be made by mail only to an address shown on a government-issued ID or a utility bill, or in person after a three-business-day waiting period. This waiting period is waived for certain repeat customers and businesses.

The requirements for copper, stainless steel or aluminum purchases expressly preempt local law. Localities can pass their own ordinances on this subject only by a two-thirds vote of their governing body and only if they can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the ordinance addresses a unique problem specific to their jurisdiction.

Also, AB 844 and SB 691 require anyone convicted of metal theft to pay restitution for the materials stolen and for any collateral damage caused during the theft.

Taking effect on January 1, 2008, is AB 1778, which imposes the same recording and payment requirements for purchases of newspapers or California Redemption Value (CRV) containers that are imposed on purchases of copper, stainless steel or aluminum. This law applies only in jurisdictions that offer curbside pickup of these materials; its intent is to reduce scavenging from curbside containers. The law requires payment to be made by check, although recyclers may provide payment for CRV containers through cash-redeemable vouchers. Exempt from these requirements are certain repeat sellers, businesses, and sales of under $50 of newspapers and under $100 of CRV containers.

published: October 2008


FOR ADVICE FROM RW&G CONCERNING these bills, PLEASE CONTACT geoffrey l. ward, roxanne m. diaz, OR ANY OF THE LAWYERS IN THE FIRM'S PUBLIC LAW DEPARTMENT.


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