Copper theft leads to Senate bill

A bill created to eliminate the theft of valuable metals is moving fast through legislation because legislators do not want to lose more businesses or lives.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, increases penalties for copper theft that damages or interrupts utilities or communication services. If Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill, such theft will become a first-degree felony. The charge is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 30 years and a $10,000 fine.

Sen. Christopher Smith, D-Broward, said, the goal of senate bill 1560 is to put more teeth in the law.

Copper theft has hurt one person and a business in the past. In July of 2011, costly copper wiring stolen from the main air-conditioning unit at Miracle 5 in Tallahassee resulted in the historical theatre going out of business, said employees.

Thieves are not only stealing copper from historical theaters, they are also stealing it from homes and churches.

Mary Beth, a sales associate at Harper’s Revell Heating & Air Conditioning, said it’s not cheap to replace an air-conditioning unit.

“If you need a replacement unit it depends on capacity,” said Beth. “But for a standard house you’re looking at about $4,500 dollars.”

Some churches cannot afford to pay for repairs said Smith. Smith said thieves steal copper from air conditioners at churches and exchange it for cash.

“I’ve had a least 10 churches in my district where they’ve torn open the unit just to get the copper,” said Smith. “For this $30 dollars worth of copper they’re causing about $3,000 dollars worth of damage.”

A business in Tallahassee that swaps copper for cash is Leon Iron and Metal on 1351 Aenon Church Road. John Folds of LIM said they buy copper for three dollars a pound. “Thicker gage wire, your clean pipe, you get more for that than this stuff over here,” said Folds. “But like I said, unless you got like a lot of weight, the price difference isn’t that big of a deal.”

Supporters of SB 1560 say they worry about the thieves as well as the lives of the people who are stealing copper.

In 2008, officials say a 24-year-old man died while trying to steal copper from a Jackson Energy power line. Police say James Wynn of Orlando, Fla., was standing on a ladder when he electrocuted and fell. He was pronounced dead at the scene.