Lawmaker’s bills to deter metal theft signed into law

RIVERSIDE – An Inland Empire lawmaker’s bills to deter copper- related thefts by imposing fines on scrap metal dealers who recycle manhole covers and irrigation pumps — the loss of which can endanger the public — will become in January.

Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, said Senate Bills 1045 and 1387 — both of which he authored — would require junk dealers to take steps to ensure devices sold as scrap are not stolen.

”Metal theft has become an epidemic in California,” the senator said today. ”It jeopardizes public safety and results in millions of dollars in repair and replacement costs annually.”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1045 into law on Sept. 19 and approved its companion measure, SB 1387, on Thursday.

”I’m pleased that the governor signed these measures into law, as it will give agencies and utilities the tools they need to fight this crime and deter future thefts,” Emmerson said.

The measures take effect Jan. 1.

Metal thieves have targeted backflow valves, electrical pull-boxes, air conditioning units, fire hydrants, manhole covers and a variety of outdoor communications equipment throughout Riverside County over the past decade as commodity prices have risen.

Repair bills can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Emmerson noted that some thefts pose a direct threat to public, pointing to an incident in Hemet where a teenager plummeted 15 feet into a storm drain, suffering minor injuries, after stepping onto a section of sidewalk where thieves had stolen a manhole cover.

In Menifee, thieves dislodged fire hydrants outside an elementary school, nearly prompting a shutdown of the facility before crews could get there to replace the devices.

According to the senator, during a one-month span in Fontana, thieves ripped out and carried off 21 backflow valves, which prevent cross- contamination of residential and commercial water supplies.

SB 1387 would prohibit a junk dealer or recycler from accepting manhole covers, hydrants or irrigation pumps unless the individual trying to sell the items presents written certification from the agency or utility that owned them confirming that they’re acceptable for recycling.

Any dealer who violates the law would be subject to fines of up to $3,000, according to Emmerson.

SB 1045 would additionally make a scrap dealer responsible for monetary damages stemming from a metal theft, including a victim’s repair and replacement costs, if the dealer knowingly failed to comply with the law.

”These two bills will help us and other agencies throughout the state protect public assets by eliminating the market for these stolen items through increased civil and criminal penalties on the dealers who accept them,” Eastern Municipal Water District Board of Directors Chairman Joe Kuebler said.

The EMWD, which services customers from Moreno Valley to Temecula, was the bills’ chief backer.

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