Copper theft bill veto puzzles area lawmakers

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2008

Local legislators are scratching their heads at Gov. HaleyBarbour’s Tuessday veto of a copper theft bill passed during the2008 regular session.

The bill, House Bill 1136, was rejected by the governor on thegrounds that it placed undue regulatory burden on the state’s metalrecycling industry, many of which are small businesses.

While the governor found problems with the bill, the Legislaturedid not. It passed both the House and Senate unanimously, on votesof 119-0 and 52-0, respectively.

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“I don’t like overriding the governor’s veto – he knows a lotabout what he’s doing,” said District 92 Rep. Becky Currie,R-Brookhaven. “But I’m having a hard time with this one. A lot ofpeople are going to be asking questions about why this bill wasvetoed after it was pushed so heavily.”

Currie agreed that the bill did, in fact, place a largeresponsibility on the metal recyclers. The bill called forrecyclers to gather thumb prints from those attempting to recyclecopper, record the seller’s address and hold the metal for two daysin the event law enforcement put out a copper theft notice.

Currie, however, said she was willing to let the recyclers bearthat burden.

“It also places a burden on taxpayers that have had copperwiring stolen out of their homes and businesses,” she said. “Whenpeople are getting their wiring ripped out, are we going to supportthe crackheads who are stealing the copper, or are we going tosupport the people?”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, was personallyinvolved in the creation of HB 1136 in the Judiciary B committee,and was more than irked to see it die on the governor’s desk.

“In his infinite wisdom, the governor has decided that no one inthe House or Senate knows what they’re doing,” he said.

Evans accused the governor of catering to industry andoverlooking “the little people.” Like Currie, Evans was notconcerned about the burden placed on metal recyclers, and thoughtHB 1136 was appropriate.

“We had several committee and subcommittee meetings on it – abunch of people came and gave their input,” he said. “We tookeverything into consideration and did the best we could.”

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, was less worked upover the veto, but still believes the bill – or a similar bill -should become law.

“Whether that’s the right bill or not I don’t know, but Icertainly voted for it,” he said. “Whether we draft a new bill ortry to override this veto, I certainly believe it’s an issue and weneed to try to fix it.”

Moak said the state’s copper theft situation was more “than justputting a fence up around something,” and something must be done tosolve the problem.

“I think the bill was pretty restrictive – it was a lot to puton a business person – but we’ve got something going on here withthe barter and sale of stolen property,” he said. “That’s why thebill was so heavy. If people in the industry think it’s toorestrictive, then let’s get some language out there that works andtry to stop some of this.”

Whatever action occurs on copper theft legislation will likelytake place in 2009, as the agenda for the upcoming special sessionwill be set by the governor and a chance for the Legislature tooverride his veto seems unlikely.