Although the first inclination of many Clark County residents would be to ask Oregon legislators what took them so long, a victory is a victory, no matter how late it arrives. So we’ll take the positive approach and applaud Oregon for doing what Washington did two years ago, imposing strict regulation on the metal recycling industry.
The new rules are fair and reasonable for metal recycling businesses while offering stern guidelines that should drastically reduce metal thefts both here and in Oregon. Thieves typically are methamphetamine addicts looking for quick cash, and until 2007 those thieves could quickly latch onto same-day cash in Washington state by selling the stolen stuff. But that year Washington passed a law that requires anyone selling scrap metal to a recycler to wait for 10 days to receive the money by nontransferable check. The dual benefits were obvious: Thieves abhor paper trails, and meth addicts aren’t likely to wait 10 days for the cash.
It was one of the most powerful steps our Legislature has taken in years in the area of nonviolent but financially destructive crimes. A Nov. 6, 2007 story in The Columbian reported that metal-theft losses incurred in that year alone had amounted to $177,000 by the Bonneville Power Administration, $120,000 statewide for the Department of Transportation (theft of road signs and guard rails) and about $20,000 for Clark Public Utilities (theft of metal equipment and supplies at power facilities). Unquantified but still severe were losses at construction sites. All of these losses have widespread impact in the form of higher costs and rates for products, services and property insurance.
But because Clark County is only minutes from Oregon, the state law had less effect here. Ball fields and recreation areas have been especially hard hit. Twice in recent months, metal thieves stole a combined $15,000 worth of metal from Harmony Sports Complex in east Vancouver.
However, Oregon’s lax regulation of metal recycling ended Friday when a state law took effect. In one way, it’s more lenient that Washington’s law; only a three-day waiting period is required. But that’s still a substantial delay for thieves and meth addicts, and we especially like the fact that metal haulers in Oregon now are required to obtain metal-transportation certificates from the Oregon State Police. Unlawfully transporting metal property — a misdemeanor — could lead to a fine of up to $1,250 and 30 days in jail.
Two components in both states’ laws that provide a strong deterrent to metal thefts are the elimination of same-day cash and the requirement of a mailing address for a nontransferable check. Only a fool would try to trick so strict a requirement. Also, metal recyclers in both states are required to report suspicious metals or sellers, such as wires that have had insulation removed for quick weighing and sale. Any signs of removing serial numbers or other identifying marks also must be reported to law authorities.
The only sad aspect of this story is that — while it probably will severely curtail metal theft — it will only push the greater problem of meth addiction into other areas of crime. And when those areas are identified and become more popular, tougher enforcement and possibly more laws will be needed.
But until real solutions to the meth scourge are found and implemented, Clark County residents can at least be satisfied with steps taken by both states to reduce the impact of metal thieves.