By Kathleen Gray

Saying it was a bill that could make a real difference across the state, Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday signed into law legislation that will make it tougher for scrap metal thieves to ply their illegal trade.

"This is an issue and problem that is taking place in all corners of Michigan," Snyder said.

State Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City, who sponsored the bill, said the three-year legislative effort was a true show of bi-partisanship in Lansing. The bill passed with overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate.

But it took several years, fierce opposition from scrap yards and recyclers across the state and ultimately a watered-down piece of legislation to finally get to a point where the state House and Senate could pass it.

The House proposed a tougher bill that would require a three-day waiting period for payment for people selling the three most often stolen items -- air conditioning units, copper wire and catalytic converters. But the Senate took out the waiting period. The final bill requires the scrapyards to instead send a check for those items if they're worth more than $25. The check would have to go to a legitimate address, rather than just a post office box.

It was enough of a compromise to win the support of Muxlow and others who had pushed for a tougher bill.

"Michigan is in the middle of a serious metal theft problem," Muxlow said, noting that it's a problem for urban communities and rural towns, which are suffering from the theft of farm equipment, wind turbine components and railroad crossing components. "This will serve as a theft deterrent."

The legislation also requires photos to be taken of the person selling the scrap and the materials being sold and will allow for the creation of a database of all people selling materials to scrap yards, but it's not certain yet who would pay for it or maintain it.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who has personal experience with scrap metal theft because two catalytic converters have been stolen from her car in Detroit, said the measure would help make the city safer.

"I want lights in my city," she said, referring to the wires that are often stolen from street lights in the city. "I'm really looking forward to the actual enforcement."

And Lisa Howze, chief of staff for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said businesses and schools in the city, which have been frequent victims of metal thefts, should rejoice.

"This gives us the tools that we need to crack down on illegal scrapping and the blight that has ravaged our community," she said. Scrap metal thefts have become epidemic in urban and rural areas.

Michigan ranks 10th in the nation in the number of insurance claims from scrap metal theft. In 2006-08, there were 13,861 insurance claims due to scrap metal theft. And that number has grown to nearly 30,000 in recent years.

(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press