Tuesday, May 31

Copper is the new gold for thieves, but should we pass more laws over it?

With South Carolina's economy still struggling, especially in construction and real estate, folks with some knowhow are chasing after the new gold:  stolen copper.  
Copper thieves strike rural churches and homes especially.  Air conditioning units are their usual target.  They strip the copper and sell it to scrap dealers for a nice amount of money.  Law enforcement around the state is worried about the problem and seems almost helpless in stopping it.  The church or homeowner hit ends up paying thousands for repairs.  It is a real problem today.  

So, the General Assembly is trying to act on it.  Everyone from police groups to insurance companies want the General Assembly to pass a copper theft bill that includes a provision that requires anyone who sells more than ten pounds of copper to a scrap dealer to have a permit from the county sheriff to do so.  That seems reasonable on some level.  

But, State Senator Glen Reese of Spartanburg County is holding up the legislation.  SC Senate rules allow just one senator to do so.  Some hate that rule, but it might be a good for something like this.  Here is why. 

First, the vast majority of salvage people are honest and work hard.  Getting scrap metal of any kind is hard work and most folks who do that work are not crooks.  Adding another layer of government bureaucracy for them to deal with just hurts a sector of our economy already struggling.  

Second, the most political and personal of jobs in most counties in South Carolina is the office of County Sheriff.  Most of our Sheriffs are good men.  But, can we count on that from here on out?  Having a Sheriff decide who gets a permit to sell copper and who does not is a dangerous thing.  Such a process is just ripe for good ole boy politics and playing political favorites.  What is to prevent Sheriff Whomever to decide his brother in law can get a permit but the guy who gave to his opponent can not?  

There lies the danger of well meaning legislation carried out in the real political world.  That brings up the third reason.  New laws made rarely, if ever, make people accountable to existing laws.  We have laws against theft and against receiving stolen goods in this state.  Politicians like to act like they are solving a problem with a new law to address the lack of enforcement of the laws already there.  But, what really makes copper theft more important, then say, plastic or iron theft?  Sure it is the problem of the day, but a law is usually forever. 

So, we say hooray for Senator Reese in pausing the rush to a new law pushed by high paid lobbyists.  And hooray for the framers of our State Senate who made that provision for a senator to slow such things down.  Indeed, a new law and a new set of political hoops to jump through for honest people will do nothing to solve the copper theft problem. It will, like most things politicians do, feel good for a moment, but only result in more hassle and little results.  If the General Assembly really wants to get serious about copper theft, then it should find some money to give the Sheriffs for more deputies and money for the Solicitors to prosecute thieves.  But, no one is taking folks out to dinner and lobbying them for that.  
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