SB 5312

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

As Reported By Senate Committee On:
Judiciary, February 28, 2007

Title: An act relating to protecting and recovering property owned by utilities, telecommunications companies, railroads, state agencies, political subdivisions of the state, construction firms, and other parties.

Brief Description: Addressing the issue of stolen metal property.

Sponsors: Senators Tom, Holmquist, Kline, Roach, Kilmer, Marr, Sheldon, Morton, Pridemore, McCaslin, Berkey, Delvin, Shin, Rasmussen, Parlette and Stevens.

Brief History:

Committee Activity: Judiciary: 1/31/07, 2/28/07 [DPS].


Majority Report: That Substitute Senate Bill No. 5312 be substituted therefor, and the substitute bill do pass.Signed by Senators Kline, Chair; Tom, Vice Chair; McCaslin, Ranking Minority Member; Carrell, Hargrove, Murray, Roach and Weinstein.

Staff: Juliana Roe (786-7405)

Background: Authorities have seen a substantial increase in the theft of scrap metal. Items such as catalytic converters on vehicles, cases from headstones and mausoleums, wire from construction sites, and manhole covers are stolen or damaged by thieves who remove scrap metal. In many cases, the scrap metal is melted down to facilitate its sale. Law enforcement has linked these thefts to those seeking money for drugs and other illegal activities.

It is currently a gross misdemeanor for any person to remove, alter, or obliterate a manufacturer's make, model, serial number, personal identification number, or identifying marks engraved upon an item of personal property. An item cannot be accepted for second-hand purchase where these markings have been removed, altered, or obliterated. It is a gross misdemeanor for a person to knowingly make, cause, or allow any false entry or misstatement of material information to be entered into any book, record, or writing required to be kept by law. This applies to pawnbrokers and second-dealers, not necessarily to recyclers.

Unfortunately, these crimes are not being pursued because the current statutes do not provide law enforcement the tools they need to investigate. Furthermore, those involved in the business of recycling, as opposed to pawnbrokers or second-hand dealers, do not necessarily fit within chapter 19 involving pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers. Rather, one statute, RCW 19.91.110, refers to "metal buyers" but provides very little guidance or regulation. It merely states that it is unlawful for any person or business engaged in buying or obtaining new or used metals without maintaining a permanent record of the transaction. This does not include those purchases made by or from a manufacturer of such metals. The statute defines "metals" as copper, copper wire, copper cable, copper pipe, copper sheets and tubing, copper bus, aluminum wire, brass pipe, lead, electrolytic nickel, and zinc. It requires the permanent record of the transaction to contain: a general description of the property; the type and quantity or weight; the name, address, driver's license number, and signature of the seller or person making delivery; and a description of any motor vehicle and the license number used in the delivery of the metal. This record must be retained by the purchaser for at least one year. A violation of this section is punishable by up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. There is no classification for this crime.

Summary of Bill: Bill as referred to committee not considered.

Summary of Proposed Substitute As Heard In Committee (Judiciary): "Recycler" is defined as every person engaged in whole or in part in the business of purchasing, selling, trading, or otherwise transferring for value, metal property within the state. It also includes persons or entities conducting business at flea markets or swap meets more than three times per year.

Recyclers doing business in this state must produce an accurate and legible record of information pertaining to the parties and items involved in the transaction. This record must be open to inspection by law enforcement and must be maintained for at least one year following the date of transaction.

Once law enforcement notifies a recycler that they reasonably believe an item of metal property has been stolen, the recycler is required to hold that property and keep it intact. This item must then be tagged or sufficiently identified and held for 120 days from the date of notification unless otherwise released by the law enforcement agency or by court order.

The regulation of recyclers under this chapter does not restrict enacting ordinances or codes requiring the licensing of recyclers or more restrictive provisions.

It is a gross misdemeanor for any person to: (1) remove or alter a make, model, or serial number, personal identification number, or identifying marks engraved or etched upon metal property purchased or received in pledge; (2) accept for purchase any metal property where someone has removed or altered a make, model, or serial number, personal identification number, or identifying marks have been engraved or etched; (3) knowingly make or allow for a false entry to be made in any record required to be kept under this chapter; (4) receive metal property from someone under the age of 18, under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or who is known to the recycler to have been convicted of burglary, robbery, theft, or possession of receiving stolen property, manufacturing, delivering, or possessing with intent to deliver methamphetamine, or possession of ephedrine or any of its salts or isomers or salts of isomers, pseudoephedrine or any of its salts or isomers or salts of isomers, or anhydrous ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamine within the past ten years whether the person is acting in his or her own behalf or as the agent of another; or (5) sign the declaration required knowing that the metal property is stolen.

Recyclers must require the party with whom a transaction is made to sign a declaration if the metal property involved is worth more than $100. The declaration must include identification of the source of the metal property. It must also be signed and dated by the seller and witnessed by the recycler. A copy of the declaration must be open to inspection by law enforcement and must be maintained for at least one year.

Metal property transactions may not be made in cash. The seller must be paid by nontransferable check and it must be mailed no earlier than 30 days after the transaction was made.

The provisions of this chapter do not apply to: motor vehicle dealers; vehicle wreckers or hulk haulers; automotive repair businesses; and those in the business of buying or selling empty food and beverage containers, including metal food and beverage containers, or nonmetal junk.

In chapter 19, "metal property" is defined as melted metals, metal junk, and metal that is still useful in its original form.

It is a gross misdemeanor for any pawnbroker to engage in transactions involving melted nonprecious metals, metal junk, and metal that is still useful in its original form, except precious metals.

EFFECT OF CHANGES MADE BY RECOMMENDED SUBSTITUTE AS PASSED COMMITTEE (Judiciary): The terms "commercial account," "commercial metal property," and "scrap metal processor" are added to the bill and defined. The term "metal property" is redefined. The term "scrap metal dealer" replaces the term "recycler." The provision requiring a recycler, now scrap metal dealer, to hold property reported as stolen for 120 days is changed to ten business days. Law enforcement must be provided with records required under this bill for a specified time period up to and including the preceding day, when requested. The section requiring that the scrap metal dealers or scrap metal processors wait 30 days prior to paying the person, with whom the transaction was made, by nontransferable check is amended to ten days. Transactions valued at $30 or less may be made in cash and are not subject to the ten-day rule. It establishes that it is a gross misdemeanor for any scrap metal dealer or scrap metal processor to engage in a series of transactions with the same seller, for which each transaction is valued at $30 or less, for the purpose of avoiding the ten-day waiting period and payment by nontransferable check. All references to pawnbrokers are removed.

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Committee/Commission/Task Force Created: No.

Effective Date: The bill contains an emergency clause and takes effect immediately.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony: PRO: This has effected all of our communities and people in all walks of life. The massive damage caused by this crime increases costs in other areas, such as an increase in utility bills. The bill imposes various requirements on both parties involved in the buying and selling of scrap metal. The 30 day requirement is included because there are not many people who will give the wrong address when they are expecting a check at that address in 30 days. Due to the nature of the methamphetamine problems and the ferocity that these people go to in order to feed their habit, the time has come for this bill.

Metal can be stolen from an innumerable amount of places, whether it is empty homes, construction sites, utility poles, or cemeteries. These thefts are not only costly, they are potentially dangerous. The damage to infrastructure is substantial. These thieves steal and sell without accountability because they are never identified. By requiring more information, the anonymity of these individuals is removed.

Some industries deal with metal theft on a daily basis. Power companies are forced to change the way they do business to stay ahead of the thieves. In the last year, all of Elmhurst Mutual Power's areas of business have been burglarized at least twice and some up to four times. The consumers are unfortunately forced to pay to replace what has been stolen. These thefts have even caused outages. These individuals are looking for instant gratification of cash in hand. Scrap dealers should obtain and maintain appropriate records so that law enforcement can apprehend and prosecute these individuals.

For contractors, the replacement value is the most burdensome and costly. It takes the metal, effort, and time to replace the stolen items.

CON: Scrap metal processors want to be part of the solution to this problem. Recyclers have already worked with local law enforcement to resolve this issue. Recyclers want to come up with bright line rules and penalties for members crossing those bright lines. The problem with the bill is that it interferes with the way in which this business is conducted. There should be something that works for both large and small recyclers.

Recycling is a cash intensive and high volume business. Forcing recyclers to hold property for long periods of time is burdensome. There are also groups such as the girl and boy scouts that come in to recycle cans. These groups need the cash now, not in 30 days.

Persons Testifying: PRO: Senator Tom, prime sponsor; Carolyn Barclift, Olympia Police Department; Dan Brooks, General Manager of Elmhurst Mutual Power; Michael Transue, Association of General Contractors and Washington Construction Industry Council.

CON: Brad Tower, Schnitzer Steel Industries; Charlie Urbick, Skagit River Steels Recycler; Mark Simon, Joseph Simon, Simon and Sons.