Judge delays Mississippi metal theft law

Published 5:56 pm Friday, August 8, 2008

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate has temporarily delayed the effective date of a law aimed at curbing the problem of metal theft.

Wingate’s order on Thursday was in response to a request for an injunction from Metal Management Mississippi Inc. He said he expects to release a decision on Tuesday. His stay of the law is effective until Wednesday.

There were “numerous questions of law” in the challenges to the statute, Wingate wrote.

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“Metal recyclers have protested provisions that require them to tag and hold certain metals, including copper, for a certain number of days before mailing checks or making electronic transactions for the metals,” the judge said.

Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed a bill passed during the legislative session that ended in April. Barbour, a Republican, characterized the measure as “massive overregulation” and said it would have been “potentially damaging to many legitimate businesses.”

Lawmakers went back and made changes to the bill in a special session that ended this week. Metal recyclers said there wasn’t enough change.

Metal recyclers say they don’t have problems with some parts of the bill, such as registering with the state and gathering information on people selling metals. However, they say the tag-and-hold provision is the most contentious.

Lawmakers shaved from five to three the number of days required for recyclers to tag and hold metals. They also won’t be required to collect thumbprints from sellers.

Recyclers argue they don’t have the space and security to hold metals, and some law enforcement officials say it’s not easy proving the metal sold is the same metal that was stolen.

“We hate metal theft as much as anyone else in our communities and have been on the front lines with law enforcement, fighting to stop it,” said Jerry Everitt, president of the Metal Recyclers Association of Mississippi. “But the new statute goes too far in punishing innocent businesses while not stopping the criminals.

Also on Thursday, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann granted metal recyclers a deadline extension until Sept. 8 to file the application for registration. Hosemann is traveling the state this week explaining what his office is doing to help recyclers comply.