Georgia lawmakers approve bill to deter cargo theft

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A bill on the Georgia governor’s desk would stiffen the punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves.

The Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill that is described as taking “criminals and organizations head on.” House lawmakers voted 116-55 to agree to changes in the bill, thus clearing the way for HB749 to move to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

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.

During recent discussion on the bill, Duncan pointed out to lawmakers that “very sophisticated criminal networks have moved into Georgia and have begun to take advantage of our laws and our businesses in regard to stealing cargo.”

He 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 previously told Land Line. “The bill is as much about deterring folks from committing the crime to 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 fines up to $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.

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 fines up to $100,000 and/or 10 years behind bars. 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.”

Duncan said the stiffer punishment sought in the bill is necessary because 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 on.”

Morris said the Georgia bill 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.

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