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June 2007

Washington State gets tough on metal thieves

In response to increased theft of nonferrous metal, sometimes from places no one would have imagined thieves would strike, the state of Washington passed a bill designed to get tough on metal thieves.

The intention of Senate Bill 5312 is to cut down on theft by making it harder to sell the material, but it puts the burden on scrap companies who will have to create and maintain the documentation required in the new law. The information must be kept available for law enforcement and maintained for a year.

Under the law, scrap metal business cannot buy nonferrous scrap from anyone who doesn’t have a current government-issued photo ID, anyone who is under the age of 18, or anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In addition, recycling companies will have to pay by check for amounts over $30. Payments by check must be mailed to the seller, and sent no earlier than 10 days after the transaction.

The bill, originally sponsored by Senators Tom, Holmquist, Kline, Roach, Kilmer, Marr, Sheldon, Morton, Pridemore, McCaslin, Berkey, Delvin, Shin, Rasmussen, Parlette and Stevens, will impose an extra year in prison if the theft causes the victim exorbitant replacement costs or creates a public hazard.

A Washington newspaper quoted Rep. Chris Hurst as saying, “This is going to be a very strong message that we are not Mogadishu. This is not Somalia. We are not going to allow our infrastructure to be stolen and sold for scrap.”

The documentation required for purchasing from individuals includes:

  • The signature of the person selling the scrap;
  • The time, date, location, and value of the transaction;
  • The scrap business employee’s name;
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the person selling the scrap;
  • The license plate number and state motor vehicle carrying the scrap;
  • A description of the vehicle;
  • The current driver’s license number or other government-issued picture identification card number of the seller;
  • A description of the nonferrous metal, including the classification code in ISRI’s scrap specifications circular, 2006; and;
  • Weight, quantity or volume of scrap.

Also, the person selling the scrap must sign and date a declaration that states that the material is not stolen, and an employee of the scrap metal business must witness the signature and also sign the declaration as a witness.

There are additional rules for burned wire, beer kegs, and specific materials described as “commercial metal property.”

Specific records must also be kept for commercial accounts, including purchases from other scrap companies.

Whether this will help curb theft of nonferrous metal or not remains to be seen. However, it will require additional record-keeping on the part of legitimate scrap companies across the state.

The full text of the law is at As of press time, it had passed both house and senate and was awaiting the governor’s signature.

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