Scrap Dealers Fighting New Law

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A federal judge has delayed the effective date of a new state law aimed at reducing scrap metal theft.

Judge Henry Wingate issued the order after scrap metal dealers challenged the new law and requested an injunction. The dealers question certain provisions which they claim are unconstitutional.

Scrap metal dealers claim the new law is overkill in its regulations and unfairly burdensome on their business. The law was designed to battle the growing problem of scrap metal theft, which has increased greatly as the price of copper and other metals has soared in recent months.

But many dealers say it punishes them and does little to stop the criminals.

Workers at David Motor spent the afternoon organizing the scrap yard. Clearing space will provide the extra room they'll need to comply with the new law.

"The law is designed to punish the scrap industry and to punish the small guy. It's not about catching thieves," said Jack Markowitz, the chief financial officer for David Motor & Scrap in Biloxi.

He doesn't mince words in describing his disdain for the new law. A makeshift summary of the rules is already posted for customers.

"We have to take a picture of the material. We have to take a picture of the person. We have to take a picture of the driver's license. We have to take a picture of the automobile and the license on the automobile," he explains.

"This is all getting ready. Trying to get everything cleaned up and moved out of here," said manager Roxanna Harvey, who was overseeing the yard clean up.

She says one big burden is the requirement to "tag and hold" scrap metal a customer brings in. It must be kept in separate stacks for three days. The biggest administrative headache is simple.

"Paperwork. Lots of paperwork. It's going to be very slow and tedious. People will have to wait. It's going to be a 15 to 20 minute wait to do all the paperwork and match it up," says Harvey.

A constitutional challenge to the law involves the provision that customers must be paid by checks, which won't be mailed until after that three day hold.

"I don't know of any business in this country, whether you're a doctor, a lawyer, a grocery store. I don't know of any business that's not allowed to use the cash that's issued by the government," said Markowitz.

While this new law may be aimed at catching scrap metal thieves or deterring such theft, Markowitz doesn't see that happening. He expects the criminals will simply go elsewhere.

"It only creates a burdensome situation that hurts the little guy, hurts the scrap dealer. And the thieves will simply go to Alabama or Louisiana to sell their material. What do they care?"

The requirement to "tag and hold" scrap metal for three days is the most contentious provision of the new law. An earlier version of the bill called for a five day hold, but that was reduced to three days after scrap metal dealers objected.

Judge Henry Wingate is expected to issue a ruling Tuesday on the legal challenges.