Georgia House backs bill to deter cargo theft

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/6/2014

A bill halfway through the Georgia statehouse would stiffen the punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves.

The House voted 161-2 to advance a bill to the Senate that is described as “tough on crime and business friendly.” Sponsored by Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, the bill would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods or controlled substances stolen.

Duncan said the state was identified as one of the top three states for cargo theft in 2013. Reasons cited are the interstate system and the Savannah Port.

“That’s not something we want to be part of our business environment,” Duncan recently told Land Line. “The bill is as much about deterring folks from committing the crime as being a business-friendly piece that allows people to rest assured.”

Offenders who steal cargo from trucks loaded with controlled substances, or pharmaceuticals, valued at less than $10,000 would face up to 10 years in prison and/or fines up to $100,000.

Theft of controlled substances valued up to $1 million could result in as much as 25 years behind bars and/or fines up to $1 million. Loads valued in excess of $1 million could result in prison terms as long as 30 years and/or fines up to $1 million.

Violators of other property heists valued as much as $1,500 would face misdemeanor charges. Theft of cargo valued as high as $10,000 would include 10 years behind bars and/or fines up to $100,000. Stolen loads valued up to $1 million could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.

Another provision in the bill covers fifth wheels, and any antitheft locking device attached to the fifth wheel. Any attempt to alter, move or sell a fifth wheel could result in 10-year prison terms and/or $100,000 fines.

OOIDA Director of Security Operations Doug Morris said the punishments sought are a good indication that officials in the state are serious about curbing cargo theft.

“They’re getting hit left and right down there. The penalties sought are pretty stiff, which is good,” Morris said. “It would definitely stop a lot of theft from occurring.”

The bill is also intended to help clear up any jurisdictional concerns. It specifies that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would have jurisdiction on cargo theft.

Duncan says cargo theft hurts everyone. He points out that all consumers pay a few dollars extra here and there because of revenue lost from cargo theft.

“The theft of commercial cargo disrupts the stream of commerce. It affects so many things downstream whether it’s the flow of cargo, missed shipments, the assembly line, and so on.”

Morris said the stiffer punishment is a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property. He also has said that providing truckers with safe places to park is needed to address this issue.

HB749 awaits consideration in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

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