Opinion: Metal Theft Law Needed

There’s an old saying to the effect that minor surgery is only minor when it’s being performed on somebody else. That’s kind of how I felt about the metal thefts that have reached epidemic proportions not only here in California but in many other parts of the country. It’s largely a rural problem because there’s a lot more unattended metal available. You know what I’m talking about: brass valves, aluminum pipes, copper wire, etc. Because it’s mostly the rural areas that were getting hit, I guess I thought I was immune.

I thought wrong.

Not long ago I was going out the front door of my house, which is located in a suburban subdivision, and when I got to the end of the front porch, I realized something was missing. During the night, a couple of thieves — or one really strong thief — made off with a huge copper planter. It was the size of a wine half-barrel, and I bet it fetched a pretty penny down at the salvage yard.

So I was more than a little interested in some pieces of state legislation that were brought up this year that would make it a lot more difficult for metal thieves to cash in on their ill-gotten gains. The bills contain such provisions as requiring recyclers to hold up payment for three days, take a thumbprint of anyone selling scrap metal, photograph the metal, and document its origin. It also requires anyone convicted of metal theft to pay restitution not only for the stolen materials but for any collateral damage caused during the theft. That damage, such as to an irrigation system, can be considerable.

Sure, many of those convicted probably won’t have the money to pay the restitution, much less the damage. (And it’s too late to help me, darn it.) But it should prove a deterrent to some of these crooks looking for a bit of quick cash, and there are a lot of them out there. In recent times, as the price of metal has skyrocketed, these scumbags have gone so far as to steal fire hydrants.

The Terminator Indeed

The bills were signed into law in October by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also acted on a couple of other pieces of legislation that should be of help to growers. Incidentally, Schwarzenegger became the most vetoing governor in modern history last month, living up to his Hollywood persona by terminating a record number of bills in the wake of the state’s budget snafu.

The first bill, which he vetoed, would have changed the way farmworkers organize into labor unions. The bill, supported by the UFW, would have allowed labor organizers to hand out postcards with checkoffs to workers. The workers could simply check the box that they wanted a union. The governor said in his veto message that the checkoff violates the sanctity of the secret ballot, a sound argument put forth by a large coalition of ag groups.

The other bill, which he signed, requires new rural home buyers to be told about the right-to-farm laws. We’ve all heard of people who move out to the country, only to find that country living can be dirty and smelly. Then they whine to their county board of supervisors, and then some of those politicians start counting heads, deciding they want those urban refugees’ votes at the next election. Sure, caving into the newbies is cowardly and runs counter to common sense, but then again, common sense isn’t common.

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