Bipartisan effort would create task force to combat metal theft

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers for years have been battling ravenous metal thieves, who pull copper wires out of street lights, grab rebar from construction sites, and steal pumps and other costly equipment from farmers' fields.

Now, a bipartisan group of legislators led by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert), is trying to put more manpower and money into the fight.

Nestande's bill, AB 2313, would create a metal theft task force within the attorney general's office that would provide grants to local police and prosecutors. The bill would also create a source of funding for the program: a fee of 1% on payouts to people who sell metal to scrap dealers.

Such assistance is needed because many law enforcement agencies, especially those in rural areas, don't have the expertise or resources to take on well-organized metal thieves, the bill's supporters said.

"I believe this legislation will provide a long solution to stop thieves from reducing our communities to scrap metal," Nestande said.

The proposal is similar to an existing state program that collects surcharges on insurance premiums to pay for a statewide insurance fraud task force. The scrap metal financing mechanism is aimed at addressing a problem pointed out last year by Gov. Jerry Brown when he vetoed an earlier metal-theft deterrence bill.

That proposal would have created "an enforcement effort without identifying a funding source," Brown wrote.

Space rockets

Rockets, satellites and other space-flight paraphernalia soon may be getting a big tax break.

Legislation backed by commercial space transporters, state tax officials, the California Chamber of Commerce and aerospace companies is being fast tracked to the governor. The bill, AB 777 by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), cleared the Assembly on a 69-5 vote and is moving through the Senate.

The idea is to give space equipment the same exemption from property taxes enjoyed by other "business inventory," including fruit trees, grapevines and oak wine barrels.

The need for a new law, proponents argue, became evident when the Los Angeles County assessor handed a tax bill to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. in 2013. The Hawthorne company, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk and commonly known as SpaceX, is the first private company to put satellites into orbit and deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX has appealed the assessment and is seeking a ruling from tax officials that its space equipment also should be exempt from property taxes.

"Private space exploration is one of the most exciting new industries in California," Muratsuchi said. "With this bill California can incubate and grow this new industry and create thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs locally and statewide."

Numbers galore

Need some economic information, fast?

The California Business Roundtable's new website has plenty at http://www.centerforjobs.org

The service covers such topics as gas prices, unemployment and regional conditions, the nonpartisan Roundtable said.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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