Copper thieves in St. Charles could be facing harsher punishments if a recently-introduced bill passes through the Louisiana House of Representatives.
After dealing with copper theft in his own store, newly-elected State Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria filed House Bill 48. The bill aims to include the level of damage that thieves cause when stealing copper into the determination of their punishments.
St. Charles Sheriff Greg Champagne said he supports anything that will give copper thieves harsher penalties.
"Copper thefts have been a big problem (in St. Charles Parish)," Champagne said. "We had a pretty big increase in theft and a lot of that was copper. Itís a problem all over the country.
"There is still too easy of a market for a copper thief to get rid of his product."
Copper thefts have shot up recently across the country due to the price of metal more than doubling.
Under current law, thieves who steal copper from a religious entity are punished based on the value of the metal taken. Other copper thefts are punishable as either misdemeanor or felony theft.
Under the new bill, a judge would be able to base the penalty on the value of the metal, the cost of replacement and the cost of repairing the property damage in the theft. The new rules would increase penalties, including larger fines and longer sentences.
The legislation specifically calls for up to 10 years in prison and/or up to $5,000 in fines for copper theft worth $1,000 or more; up to five years in prison and/or up to $2,000 in fines for copper theft between $500 and $1,000; and up to two years in jail and/or $1,000 in fines for copper theft less than $500.
Synthetic marijuana could cost law-breakers liquor license
Copper thieves are not the only law-breakers who could soon face harsher penalties.
Businesses caught selling synthetic marijuana could have their liquor and tobacco licenses suspended, with the goal of revoking them permanently.
The Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has already suspended the licenses of two businesses – in Baton Rouge and Baker – that were caught selling the illegal substance.
"Iím all for anything that toughens that law up," Champagne said.
While he believes it would further reduce instances of synthetic marijuana sales in the state, Champagne said St. Charles has not had a problem with the sales since the substance was first deemed illegal.
"When the governor came out with his executive order, we made one of the first arrests in the state on that," Champagne said. "I think they might have gotten the message locally."
Champagne said the Sheriffís Office is regularly checking on local businesses to make sure no one is selling the synthetic drug, but that some people could still be getting away with it.
"Everybodyís only as strong as the weakest link," he said. "If anybody knows about (someone selling synthetic marijuana), we want them to tell us.
"Iím all for toughening up the law on both of these things."