- The Kansas House of Representatives is considering a bill that would make changes to how the state handles scrap metal theft. SB 219 passed 35-4 in the Kansas Senate on March 27 and is slated to come up at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
- The bill would establish and fund a statewide scrap metal database in which scrapyards would enter information on each daily transaction within 72 hours of its completion. The database would be funded by scrapyards' annual registration fees and fines levied from scrap theft. The bill would also reduce the proposed annual scrapyard registration fee cap from $1,500 to $500 starting on January 1, 2020.
- If passed, the bill would transfer authority for the database from the state's attorney general to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The attorney general was given authority when a scrap metal database became law in 2015 under the Scrap Metal Theft Reduction Act (HB 2048), but the measure was never funded and never took effect.
If this measure becomes law, people selling metal to a scrapyard will have to provide their name, address, phone number, sex and date of birth — along with a driver's license, military identification card, passport or personal identification license — during each transaction. The scrapyard would enter this information into the database within 72 hours, along with the time, date and place of each transaction and a description of the material purchased.
These databases allow authorities to access information that could help a metal theft investigation. Cross-referencing metals reported stolen with materials sold to scrapyards could help with tracking down thieves — especially those that travel from scrapyard to scrapyard trying to unload material.
As metal prices increase, so do cases of theft. While metals theft sometimes occurs at a scrapyard itself, thieves also steal metals — such as copper wiring from buildings, metal historical markers or catalytic converters from cars — from within their own communities.
Metals theft is a significant issue the scrap recycling industry and its partners have worked to mitigate, and one that the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) dedicates substantial resources to. According to ISRI, all 50 states have passed laws to combat the increase in metals theft in recent years; however, they vary greatly in their scope and requirements for scrap sellers, scrap purchasers and law enforcement.
The mere presence of such informational databases is intended to deter would-be thieves from stealing metals and attempting to resell them. The databases benefit scrapyards by directly providing information to police, alleviating some liability related to purchasing stolen materials and providing uniformity in scrap metal sales across a state. However, some have concerns about privacy issues or undue compliance burdens being placed on small businesses.
The current legislation comes at a time when reports of scrap metal theft have increased in parts of the state — especially in Wichita, where people posing as city workers entered municipally-owned buildings to steal copper from features such as air conditioning units. That has proven challenging for law enforcement in the numerous cities that eliminated their tracking systems when the state database was established — only to have the state effort remain unfunded. With the current legislation's passage in the state senate and action in the house, however, the long-stalled database may finally be emerging from its limbo.