Bill aimed at copper thieves has key support
Though police want a slight revision, top legislators want the new rules approved
The attorney general and two key Democratic lawmakers are urging Gov. Linda Lingle to approve a bill aimed at cracking down on copper theft amid concerns raised by Honolulu police that the measure is unenforceable.
House Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said any interpretation that the new law cannot be enforced is "absurd."
The new law increases penalties for copper theft, clarifies what materials constitute copper and adds requirements for scrap-metal dealers and sellers.
Among other requirements, dealers would be required to obtain a signed statement from sellers stating that copper being offered for sale was obtained legally. Sellers also would have to provide a receipt or notarized declaration describing how they obtained the metal, and dealers would have to verify a seller's identity through a photo ID.
"We're making them jump through these extra hoops," Waters said. "It makes it harder for both the thief to sell and for a scrap dealer to buy."
Waters and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, both attorneys, along with Attorney General Mark Bennett, said they will urge Lingle to sign the measure, House Bill 1246.
However, Honolulu police Maj. Kurt Kendro contends there is a flaw that he and others tried to fix before final passage of the bill.
He says that under the law, a violation only occurs if a dealer is unlicensed "and" a false statement is made with regard to how the metal was obtained.
Kendro said the law would only apply to unlicensed dealers, but a recent crackdown on copper thefts prompted virtually all dealers to obtain the proper licenses.
"The idea was that in order to make this an enforceable bill, they needed to change the language," Kendro said. "It's a very simple fix, and it would be very easy to correct. Somehow it just fell through the cracks."
Bennett said the intent of the Legislature and the bill is clear and that even licensed scrap dealers could be prosecuted if they were found to be dealing in stolen metal.
"Changing the 'and' to a comma would have made certain that there is no possible ambiguity in the statute, but nonetheless, our belief is that this is not any kind of fatal flaw," Bennett said.
"Saying that it only applies to nonlicensed scrap dealers who violate this section is absurd," Waters said. "I'm encouraging the governor to sign this bill."