Mississippi House panel endorses cargo theft deterrent

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, February 29, 2016

An effort at the Mississippi statehouse that is intended to deter the theft of truck, rail or container cargo through stiff punishment has taken the first step toward becoming law.

The House Judiciary B Committee voted to advance a bill to establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose felony charges with escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods.

Similar rules are already in place in states that include Georgia, Texas and Alabama.

According to FreightWatch International, in 2015 Mississippi ranked in the top 20 of states in the number of cargo thefts. Florida, California, Texas, New Jersey and Georgia are in the top five.

OOIDA says legislative efforts to deter cargo theft are a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, has said that in most cases of cargo theft owner-operators would effectively be out of business.

“In the short term, without equipment there is no way to make money. And in the long term, they might lose business from a freight broker or motor carrier,” Matousek said.

In an effort to discourage thefts in the state, offenders would face prison in addition to monetary penalties. Specifically, thieves 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 $1,000 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 in excess of $10,000 could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.

Another provision in the bill from Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, 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.

The bill, HB595, awaits further consideration on the House floor. If approved there, it would move to the Senate.

A separate bill awaiting a House floor vote would provide weight and size exemptions for commodities transported to or from terminals or port facilities on the Tombigbee River or Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The exemptions could not exceed federal limitations.

HB166 would require exempted loads to stay within counties with a bridge crossing the Tombigbee River or the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also, the Mississippi DOT must issue a permit specifying the route within the county that the truck could travel.

Another Senate-approved bill would make traveling Mississippi roads safer.

SB2035 would require drivers to flip on their headlights whenever the windshield wipers are in use, and during the time period between sunset and sunrise.

The bill awaits assignment to committee in the House.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Mississippi, click here.

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