House Judiciary Committee delays bill to enhance penalties for retail theft
Some representatives raise objections to severe sentences in legislation
Store employees work to stock shelves at a ShopRite supermarket on April 13, 2020 in Plainview, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A bill increasing penalties for theft stalled in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday after several members expressed concerns over potential unintended consequences.
HB 288, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, was sent to a subcommittee to address the issues.
The bill would create a new crime of retail theft, defined generally as any attempt by someone to take an item or artificially reduce the price of an item in a store by some means without consent or knowledge of the establishment.
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“I think anyone who has been watching the news lately, you’re seeing that this type of theft has skyrocketed, it has exploded as far as the cost to consumers and businesses,” he said during the meeting. “They are shutting down all over the country. We are seeing things that we have never seen before. Walmarts, Targets, Whole Foods shutting down. Why? They cannot afford the losses.”
Treadaway’s legislation would make it a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, for someone to steal items worth at least $2,500; steal a total of $1,000 worth of property within 180 days or take a firearm.
A person who steals between $500 and $2,500 of merchandise would be charged with retail theft in the second degree, a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
For theft of merchandise worth less than $500, a person could be charged with retail theft in the third degree punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine. The punishment would be raised to a Class C felony after four convictions for third degree retail theft.
The bill also creates a crime of organized retail theft, with an element of reselling the stolen product.
If at least two people try to steal from a store, anyone involved can be charged with organized retail theft. People may also be charged with organized retail theft if they possess stolen property from a store or conduct business using items that have been stolen from a store.
People charged with organized retail theft may be convicted of a Class B felony.
This is the second bill in as many weeks that Treadaway has sponsored that would enhance penalties for violating provisions that are already law. In a prior committee meeting, he introduced HB 191, creating harsher punishments for people who were identified as part of a gang.
Ellie Taylor, the president and chief executive officer of the Alabama Grocers Association, told the committee Wednedsay there had been efforts to steal baby formula.
“These thieves are organized,” she said. “They know what they are doing. They are stealing just under the threshold so that they don’t meet those felony thresholds, and they know what they are doing. It is very organized. And a lot of this money is being tied to terrorism and they know that is where some of this is going.”
That example did not persuade Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne.
“The baby formula has thrown a wrench in this whole process,” he said. “If a mother and father are starving, and they come in to steal baby formula for a starving baby, we have set it up now to where that would be a Class B felony.”
Another holdout is Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.
“You and I working together to steal something that is worth less than $1 could end up with us being Class B felons,” he said. “That should be offensive to everybody in here, but it might not be. There may be people who are very comfortable with the range of punishment of a Class B felony if two people work together to shoplift.”
England is also concerned with the unintended consequences of the bill.
“Store owners would use it to pretend to send a message to shoplifters, ‘that if you shoplift here, we are going to get you arrested for a Class B felony,’” he said.
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