The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 22, 2013

Bill will make pawning stolen items harder for thieves

CHARLESTON — Thieves would find it a little harder to fence stolen items at West Virginia pawn shops in a House bill approved Friday.

The idea is to require a photo ID of anyone who brings in items to either hock or sell, along with records to be maintained by pawnbrokers, either on paper or electronically.

While the massive education bill consumed most of the session, the debate was on HB2534.

One lawmaker, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, wondered if he would be stranded in Charleston if his billfold turned up missing and he couldn’t produce a photo ID.

“If I’m here in Charleston and lose my wallet and need to get back to Point Pleasant, this would preclude me from being able to pawn my watch, for instance, to get home?” he asked.

“If you don’t meet the requirements of this bill, you’d be prohibited from pawning that item.”

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, recalled how his family residence was burglarized more than a decade go.

“It’s not a nice feeling to know someone has been in your home,” he said.

While many items turned up in a pawn shop, Marcum said, there was no way to link them to the thieves, thus the crime remains unsolved for a dozen years.

In an 83-13 vote clearing the bill, two southern lawmakers voted against it — Karen Arvon of Raleigh County and Josh Nelson of Boone, both Republicans.

Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, was the chief sponsor, but the idea actually was generated a few years ago by Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock.

He told the House that the bill is needed to respond to much thievery across the state. Thieves rip off residents for televisions and the like, and never have to identify themselves when selling them at pawn shops, he said.

“They get the money and use it for whatever,” Swartzmiller said. “Most of the time, we believe, it’s to go buy more drugs.”

Unless pawned items are jewelry, or firearms, which are regulated federally, information now isn’t documented, the delegate said.

“All this does is say who you are, take the information down, so if there’s an investigation, law enforcement can continue with it and have the opportunity to catch these people before they rob somebody else’s place,” he said.

“It’s not taking anybody’s rights away.”

Besides the photo ID, the bill compels pawn brokers to record the date of transaction, name of the seller, the clerk who handled the deal, and terms of the loan or purchase, including a detailed description of the property.

“All this is doing is protecting law-abiding citizens out there who may have had the misfortune of being robbed and being able to find out who broke in and violated their house,” Swartzmiller said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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