Metal Theft Crime Bill HB 144 Passes Judiciary Committee

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. File photo

NM House Democrats News:

SANTA FE — The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday unanimously advanced legislation establishing the crime of property damage caused by the theft of regulated materials like copper and other metals, and public property such as street signs. 

With bipartisan sponsorship from Rep. Meredith Dixon (D-Albuquerque), Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque), and William “Bill” Rehm (R-Albuquerque), House Bill 144 criminalizes up to a fourth degree felony the damage to property by theft or attempted theft of regulated materials.

Regulated material covered under HB 144 includes aluminum, bronze, copper, brass, steel, and lead materials, as well as utility access covers, water meter covers, guard rails, street signs, traffic signals, and catalytic converters. 

“House Bill 144 will reduce metal theft, which is an ongoing problem statewide. The issue isn’t just the metal, but the resulting property damage, which often far exceeds the value of the stolen materials,” Rep. Dixon said. “In one example, approximately $500 of copper wire was stolen from a Santa Fe church, but the theft caused more than $80,000 in damage when it caused the church’s boiler to crack.” 

“Metal theft is a frustrating challenge for businesses, the community and law enforcement because existing criminal statutes do not criminalize the combined act of theft and damage to property. Without a specific combined statute, many cases go unprosecuted,” Rep. Maestas said. “HB 144 provides law enforcement a more effective deterrent to this ongoing problem in our state.” 

“As a former police officer, I’ve seen metal theft plague our communities for years, but under current laws, perpetrators are rarely held accountable for the full extent of the damages they cause,”  Rep. Rehm said. “House Bill 144 will help bring metal thieves to justice and help curtail the recurrence of these crimes New Mexico.”

HB 144 passed the House Judiciary Committee with a 10-0 vote, and will be heard next in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. 

Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.