Scrap metal law irks dealer

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February 20, 2017 - 12:00 AM

LAHARPE — A statewide effort to protect farmers, construction companies and others victimized by scrap metal theft brought unintended consequences, Ray Maloney contends.
The Ray’s Metal Depot owner in LaHarpe spoke about the Kansas Scrap Metal Theft Reduction Act passed into state law in 2015.
The act gives the Attorney General’s office regulatory oversight of each scrap metal dealer in the state, and forces dealers to enact a series of safeguards to document all nonferrous metal purchases.
Many of the new law’s regulations have yet to be enforced, because a centralized computer database is not yet online.
When it does, Maloney said he and other metal salvage dealers will be forced to purchase camera and computer systems in order to photograph each piece of scrap metal brought into his salvage lot on the north edge of LaHarpe. Additionally, the cost to renew his scrap metal license has increased from $50 to $1,000.
 
THE SCRAP Metal Theft Reduction Act was passed due to an ongoing metal theft issue.
Because farms and rural construction sites are often in remote locations, thieves saw them as prime targets.
“It wasn’t hard for them to get copper wire from buildings, stuff like that,” Maloney said.
The issue grew particularly troublesome in Wichita, where dealers were more inclined to accept loads, regardless of whether the person bringing in the metal looked suspicious, because of the large number of scrap metal yards.
If one dealer rejected a load of metal, the peddler could go to the dealer’s competitor.
In response, the Wichita City Council passed an ordinance regulating scrap metal purchases within city limits. Those who sold such metals as copper, brass and aluminum had to be photographed and their vehicle license tags recorded.
The crackdown effectively curbed the practice in Wichita, but with a devastating side effect.
“What it did was just about make it impossible for dealers in Wichita to buy anything,” Maloney said. “Customers just went to surrounding areas.”
To level the playing field, the Wichita vendors — with support from farmers, construction companies, plumbers and electricians — approached state lawmakers in 2015.
“They went to see if the state could do anything about it,” Maloney said. “And it did.”
The new state law was passed overwhelmingly — 37-1 in the State Senate and 73-32 in the Kansas House. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation into law June 26, 2015.
Of note, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who represents Allen County, cast the lone dissenting vote. Rep. Kent Thompson, R-LaHarpe, also voted in opposition, because he noted the effects on rural metal dealers such as Maloney.

ONCE THE state’s central database is up and going, Maloney et al will be required to institute a camera system to photograph each piece of scrap metal (aluminum cans, appliances and cars don’t count) and a computer system to enter each day’s collections to a statewide database.
Maloney also will have to get a photo of the seller’s vehicle and a copy of the seller’s driver’s license.
Maloney estimates the new monitoring system will cost him between $15,000 and $20,000.
“There have been a few yards that have already put their systems in place,” he said. “That’s the prices I’ve been hearing.”
Another safeguard sticks in Maloney’s craw.
“Right now, I’m technically in violation because I have to undergo another background check and have my fingerprints taken in order to get my license,” Maloney said. “Even though I’ve been in business for 25 years, I have to give my banking information and my birth certificate, just to buy the same stuff I’ve been buying for 25 years.”
What Maloney initially thought was a reprieve — plumbers, electricians and others who deal regularly with scrap metal were exempt — also went for naught when the state later pulled those exemptions.
Now, everybody — even plumbers Maloney’s dealt with for decades — must have their metal photographed and documented.
“It’s just a mess,” Maloney said.

AS A metal dealer who works in a rural community, Maloney estimates he knows more than 75 percent of all sellers or buyers who enter his lot.
“And I’ve always worked closely with the Sheriff’s Department and police departments,” he said.
That relationship, on top of safeguards already in place — Maloney already records license plate numbers of sellers he’s unfamiliar with — Maloney thinks his system is secure enough already.
“If I get a seller in here who I’m not certain about, I won’t buy his metal,” Maloney said. “I got a call the other day from a guy who had stripped down a Dodge truck and asked me if I wanted to buy it.”
Maloney declined after the seller noted he didn’t have a title.
“Maybe he was legitimate, I don’t know,” Maloney said. “But I’m not taking the chance of losing my business.
“Allen County is a county of 13,000 people, and we don’t have a metal industry that would support widespread theft,” he continued. “We’ve managed to work out a niche here and make it work for us.
“What’s bad is legislators run on platforms to reduce regulation, cutting back on spending,” Maloney said. “But then they pass stuff like this, which can run dealers like me out of business.”

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