House gives final OK to crackdowns on scrap-metal theft and hit-and-run driving

CollotonBills cracking down on theft of scrap metal and toughening penalties for leaving the scene of an accident cleared their final legislative hurdle and are on their way to the governor’s desk.

The House today also sent a second bill outlawing the drug known as “bath salts,” to clean up problems found in a similar bill that has already been signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The major change in law regarding scrap metal is to set the penalty for thieves based on the cost of replacing what they steal, rather than the value of the metal stolen, according to Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, chairwoman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

That provision of House Bill 2312 is meant to address the problem that arises when a thief does thousands of dollars in damage to, for example, a heating and air conditioning system, to steal a few dollars worth of copper.

The bill’s provisions also require that scrap dealers keep a dossier of information on customers who sell more than $50 worth of scrap, including: name, address, sex, date of birth and a copy of the person’s driver’s license or other government- issued identification. In some cases, a thumbprint would be required.

Dealers would be required to use a prenumbered check or an electronic payment system that photographs the seller when buying more than $35 worth of copper, air conditioning parts or car catalytic converters — forms of metal that are frequently targeted by thieves.

Dealers would also be required to record the license number, color and style or make of the vehicle used to deliver the scrap.

The bill passed 110-14.

The hit-and-run bill, House Bill 2044, increases the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident.

The bill, which passed 112-12, would make it a felony, with presumptive prison time, for a driver to leave the scene of an accident that involves a fatality or major injuries. It would be a misdemeanor to leave the scene of an accident involving only property damage or minor injuries.

With the toughening of penalties for DUI in recent years, drunken motorists can get a lesser penalty — presumptive probation — if they flee the scene and can avoid law enforcement for a few hours until their blood-alcohol level drops, officials said.

Statewide, there were 31,681 hit-and-run accidents from 2004 to 2008. Of those 35 involved fatalities and 4,551 involved injuries, according to Transportation Department figures.

The problem has been especially acute in Lawrence, a university town with a large population of young people and an active night life.

The House also sent the governor a do-over on the bath salts bill, after a computer glitch was found in the bill he signed earlier.

The bill seeks to outlaw substances that are sold under the cover of being a bath product but actually contain a powerful stimulant that produces effects similar to methamphetamine.

Colloton said the printout from the state’s new computer system altered brackets in the chemical formulas of some of the drugs the law is meant to ban, which could have kept it from being enforced.

The replacement bill is Senate Substitute for House Bill 2049. It passed 120-3.