Bill provides hope, lacks enforcement for reducing copper wire theft in Minnesota

Bill provides hope, lacks enforcement for reducing copper wire theft in Minnesota

Bill provides hope, lacks enforcement for reducing copper wire theft in Minnesota

A bill that has come with some hope for significantly reducing copper wire theft across the state is expected to go before its first Senate committee on Thursday.

If you haven’t seen the pitch-black streets for yourself, the latest city data put together in advance of the hearing leaves a trail as clear as the ripped-up light poles across the capital city.

That data, included in a handout from St. Paul Public Works, revealed the city spent $1.2 million on repairs last year. That amount is a $100,000 increase from the last estimate from Public Works Director Sean Kershaw in mid-March. It also showed that in February alone, there were about 2,000 street light outages.

The newly proposed legislation is modeled after a similar law passed last year to crack down on catalytic converter thefts, and that one has seen some success.

Copper wire theft is a statewide problem, said bill author Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL – St. Paul) in an interview on Tuesday, but the bill originated from city officials in St. Paul, where the city’s lantern-style lights have been hit hard.

“We had a dry winter, so there were more thefts that went on this year,” Pappas said. “So it’s been a dark winter around some of these parks.”

As it’s written, starting next year, the bill would require anyone reselling copper wire to get a license proving their business is legal first.

“This is one possible solution,” Pappas said.

Asked if there’s been any discussion of how to enforce whether those who are buying the scrap copper wire are checking for the licenses, Pappas said, “At this point, we’re not putting any enforcement into the law. This is partly, it’s a financial issue where we don’t really have the resources at this point for enforcement. And partially just to see how this works… And then, come back if we need stronger language or more enforcement.”

The full weight of the law has been a key expectation for police this time around too.

“Yeah, we haven’t had our hearing on this yet on Thursday. I expect a lot of this stuff will be revealed with the hearing,” Pappas said.

If the bill is passed, the Minnesota Department of Commerce would handle the licensing process.

If penalties aren’t ultimately built into the bill, the state agency has the power to create enforcement rules later on, as could lawmakers depending on the success of the initial rollout, Pappas said.