Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Gov. Schwarzenegger signed five bills that restrict recyclers.

Five bills meant to make a dent in metal thefts statewide were signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week.

The bills are important for Merced County, where law enforcement officials say metal thefts are frequent, especially at farms.

One of the bills, AB 844, is crafted to help law enforcement officials track stolen metals sold to scrap recyclers by forcing recyclers to keep identifying information about sellers on file, such as their photos, thumbprints and pictures of the metal they're turning in.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, the bill would also require anyone convicted of stealing metal to pay restitution -- not just for what he stole but also for any collateral damage the crime may have caused.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said the requirements contained in AB 844 will help law enforcement fight metal thefts, which have become a "plague."

Although the county already has an anti-metal theft ordinance, supporters of the bill believe a California law could help deter thieves from selling their wares in other counties. "Thankfully, now we have a statewide law that is a new umbrella that helps law enforcement and will also help mitigate thefts," Pazin said.

County Supervisor John Pedrozo said he was glad the governor signed the bills because he knows many who've been affected by metal thefts. Pedrozo said thieves in Merced County have targeted foreclosed homes, stripping them of copper and other metals for money.

Metal thefts also burden farmers with large expenses. For example, an average brass valve stem can cost between $20 and $40. "If you have 15 or 20 valves in a field, figure it out," Pedrozo said.

Under the provisions of AB 844, recyclers would have to turn the seller's identifying information over to law enforcement officials each month. The bill also includes a provision that would require recyclers to withhold payments from sellers for three days.

In addition to AB 844, Schwarzenegger signed several similar metal theft bills:

SB 691 requires recyclers to take thumbprints of individuals selling copper, copper alloys, aluminum and stainless steal. The bill was authored by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

AB 1859 imposes a fine of not more than $3,000 for any person who knowingly receives any part of a fire hydrant, including bronze or brass fittings and parts. The bill was authored by Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia.

SB 447 requires scrap metal dealers and recyclers to report what materials are being scrapped at their facilities and by whom on a daily basis. The bill was authored by Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria.

AB 1778 requires recyclers to obtain identifying information on individuals who bring in more than $50 worth of CRV recyclables and newspapers. It also requires that payments of $50 or more be made by check. The bill was authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.