CHARLESTON — House Majority Leader Joe DeLong is confident lawmakers are going to get a second chance to crack down on copper theft, an issue he views as a serious matter of public safety.

His original bill that specified more detailed record-keeping to track stolen copper and other metals was vetoed by Gov. Joe Manchin out of constitutional concerns.

Since then, however, DeLong, members of a copper dealers group, and other stakeholders have worked quietly behind the scenes in advance of this week’s special session.

“I believe it’s going to be on the agenda,” DeLong, D-Hancock, said Thursday.

Another matter DeLong and Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, hope to see Manchin include would protect victims of domestic violence when they register to vote by keeping their home address in confidence, shielded from public scrutiny.

What has generated the most attention in the session has been a Republican effort to tweak the law on wired-for-sound undercover agents in making drug buys, but whether Manchin wants to deal with it won’t be known for sure until the agenda is revealed today.

On the copper issue, DeLong said, “Obviously, the intent is to have some monitoring and tracking to make sure it won’t be so easy for people to move stolen copper and other metals.”

“The belief being, if you can’t sell it, you’re less likely to steal it. That’s really the underlying intent of the bill.”

At the same time, DeLong said caution must be taken to avoid imposing too much of a burden on dealers.

“Quite frankly, some don’t run a big enough operation to handle a long arduous process that may not get to our ultimate goal which is to find balance.”

Some would-be thieves have been electrocuted in West Virginia after attempting to steal copper, but DeLong says the public at large is poised to become victims when metal is lifted from coal mines, power plants, telephone installations and the like.

“How would you like to call the poison control center after your child swallowed poison but couldn’t get through because somebody stole the copper?”

“Some people don’t think about this, but I do. That type of thing is my real concern. My intent is to have some tracking so if copper is stolen and someone tried to sell it, you’d be able to find out and track where it came from.”

What’s more, the majority leader said, workers reporting for duty could be imperiled if copper is lifted from strategic places.

“People go into a work site believing everything is safe and secure after thieves have torn away protective coverings and the next thing you know, they don’t make it out alive,” he said.

“Normally, what has happened so far is that the people who have gotten serious injured or were killed have been the thieves. A lot of people think they’re the only ones who are at risk. And this is really not true.”

Lara Ramsburg, communications officer for Manchin, said the administration supports the concept of DeLong’s proposal but had concerns about the constitutionality of some parts of it.

“We think there are ways to work around that with the Legislature,” she said.

Some concerns were couched in a section dealing with searches for stolen materials and in another part that barred one from engaging in scrap metal business if a family member had been accused of thievery.

In relation to the undercover drug buys, Republicans are holding out hope the governor will revisit a 1987 law that limited to five the number of circuits that could approve orders allowing police to monitor such buys with eavesdropping wires. The issue arose after the state Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a Boone County in a drug trafficking case on grounds that an unreasonable search was conducted.

DeLong has teamed with Mahan to provide confidentiality to domestic violence victims when they register to vote so their names are not available to the public as ordinary voters’ names.

Such a bill was passed last winter but a title defect prompted a gubernatorial veto.

“When you think about it, a person who has been a victim of domestic violence, or something of that nature, has had enough to go through in life without having to worry about the basic right as a citizen to go to the polls and having their address published,” DeLong said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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