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Florida Tightens Rules on Scrap Metal Sales

Goal is to help stop trade in stolen copper and other metals

 It’s about to get harder to unload a stolen piece of transmission line in Florida. Copper theft has been an increasing problem for broadcasters, builders, power companies and other industries that use the metal, particularly at remote, unattended sites. Florida is now tightening regulations on scrap metal dealers, which should make it harder for thieves to unload stolen copper, aluminum and other metals.

New rules that go into effect July 1 make stealing copper from a utility or communications services provider a first-degree felony, which could net a thief a 30-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. The law also makes knowingly purchasing stolen metals a third-degree felony, which could mean five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The change likely to have the biggest influence on copper theft is the banning of cash payments for scrap metal. Under the new rules, all payments must be made by check or an electronic payment system, and payment may be delayed by up to three days.

Regulations on scrap-metal buying are also tightened and preempt any municipal or county rules. All scrap-metal dealers will have to be registered with the state, and dealers will be required to keep better records of all purchases, including photographs of the material bought. If they purchase an item with a serial number on it, the dealer will have to check a state database to make sure the item has not been reported stolen.

In addition, the new law waives civil liability for property owners if someone is injured or killed while trying to steal copper or other regulated materials.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law at the end of April.