Bills approved by the House would require scrapyards to take photos or videos of scrap metal they buy, a nod to prosecutors who want better record-keeping to help cases against thieves. Another major provision would make people wait three days for payment after selling copper wire, catalytic converters and air conditioners and parts.
Sellers also could only be paid by check or money order, or they could redeem their money at an onsite ATM that takes photos of them getting the cash. The legislation would prohibit knowingly selling or buying street lights poles, guardrails, traffic signs, cemetery plaques and railroad equipment unless a seller specifically own the materials.
"The theft is tearing apart our communities," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat who said she twice has had catalytic converters stolen from her own vehicle.
The bipartisan 98-9 and 99-8 votes came after two years of workgroup meetings and signal legislators may be close to sending the measures to Gov. Rick Snyder, whose administration is credited with helping build consensus in the House. They now go to the Senate, where related legislation is pending.
One of the House bills is sponsored by Rep. Paul Muxlow, a Brown City Republican who said a man stole cable from wind turbines in the area he represents.
"We are simply asking that there be more data collected from sellers so that law enforcement can do their job with some extra tools," he said. The bills also would free the scrap metal industry of some regulations, Muxlow said.
Thieves target abandoned dwellings, construction sites and even occupied premises to strip copper wiring, plumbing, window air conditioners and the like.
A law that took effect in 2009 subjects people who knowingly buy or sell stolen scrap metal to felony penalties. Despite legal requirements that dealers maintain records and sellers show a driver's license, police and prosecutors have said successfully prosecuting cases remains difficult.
Michigan had the ninth-highest number of insurance claims for metal theft in the U.S. from 2010-12, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Some lawmakers who voted for the legislation still have concerns about it, saying law enforcement needs additional funding to prevent thefts in the first place.
"It would be far more helpful to be able to identify known metal thieves," said Rep. Eileen Kowall, a Republican from White Lake who said she is working to create a database to help scrapyards flag known thieves when they come in.
While honest dealers will comply with the new rules, she said, "bad actors will figure out ways to get around the laws."
Online: House Bills 4593 and 4595: http://1.usa.gov/1f6d65n