Rep. Bobby Gonzales
NM HOUSE News:
Legislation allows for arrest, prosecution, and sentencing for disruption of Communications and Utilities
SANTA FE—A bill that criminalizes the theft of or intentional damage to communications and utilities, including copper theft, has passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 60-0.
House Business and Industry Committee Substitute for House Bill 239 (Disruption of Communications and Utilities) as amended, sponsored by Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, makes it a crime if the theft or damage creates a public safety hazard or causes a disruption of communications services or public utility services to 10 or more households, customers or subscribers or causes monetary damage equal to or greater than $1,000 in value of equipment.
The penalty for a first offense is a misdemeanor, second offense is a fourth-degree felony, and a third offense is a third-degree felony. The amendment adds a provision making it possible for the prosecutor to charge a person convicted of this crime with multiple crimes based on the same conduct, such as criminal damage to property and larceny.
“Copper and metal theft has increased dramatically within the last ten years and there’s a lot of damage being done to businesses,” Gonzales said. “The disruption that it causes for everyone is very punitive. So this is one piece of legislation to start addressing the costly damage and punish those who cause it. It’s only the beginning, but we have to move forward to address this growing problem.”
Gonzales cited several examples of recent damage and resulting costs incurred by the victims:
- Zia Little League; field lights costing in excess of $20,000 to replace;
- Isleta Pueblo; $50,000 in damage to outdoor lighting;
- Santa Fe church; $80,000 in damage to frozen boiler;
- More than 200 incidents in the Oil and Gas Industry in 2013; and
- Per Albuquerque Police Department – it receives approximately one copper theft report per day.
Gonzales said another important component of this bill deals with the public safety hazard.
“If an individual is in the process of stealing copper or wire and they do not finish – they could leave a box open and unattended,” he said. “That presents an extremely dangerous situation, especially if there are children around. This bill makes that public safety hazard a crime.”
HB 239a now goes to the Senate for consideration.