Governor Vetoes Copper Theft Legislation

by Jon Kalahar
jkalahar@wlbt.net

The theft of copper is a growing problem across Mississippi.  Lawmakers thought they passed a bill that would be a deterrent.

But Monday, even though he admits copper theft can cause huge economic losses,  Governor Haley Barbour vetoed the bill leaving many scratching their heads.

No one is immune, copper thieves will strike businesses, private homes, even schools. Many believed a bill that passed the legislature would help deter the crime. Governor Barbour didn't think so.

In this veto message, Barbour says "I support more restrictive laws that discourage the trade of illegal metals in Mississippi. However, in regulating metals commerce, we should acknowledge that the metals industry employs thousands of Mississippians and to penalize many legitimate businesses for the bad actions of others is poor policy and unfair."

The bill required buyers to collect personal information from the seller and hold it for up to two years. Also, the seller would not receive cash but would be paid through a mailed check. Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz believed everyone was in agreement.

"We brought the industry in and tried to figure out a way to get everybody to agree on something and when you get a bill passed the house and passed the senate as unanimously as it did you're left shaking your head as to why the bill would be vetoed," said Bentz.

Jack Harper owns rental properties damaged by copper thieves. He says it's common to replace multiple air conditioning units every month.

"Every day that passes the cost goes up and I just wish the Governor had had a sense of urgency about solving this problem instead of telling us we had to wait another year. That's easy to say when the money's not coming out of your pocket," said Harper.

Many have resorted to these metal bars around outside a-c units. Jackson Police say new law or not, they will continue to track down these thieves and put them is jail.

"We'll continue to do what we do and like I say maybe we'll give it another try next year," said Assistant Chief Lee Vance, Jackson Police Department.

The Public Service Commission hopes Barbour will bring it back before the legislature in the special session.

Jackson Police say most of the copper thieves steal the metal and then resell it to get money to buy drugs.