By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
A bill on the move at the Mississippi statehouse would dole out stiff punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves.
The House Judiciary B Committee voted on Thursday, Jan. 29, to advance a bill that would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose felony charges with escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, HB1263 mirrors a 2014 Georgia law.
According to FreightWatch International, Mississippi ranks 15th in the number of cargo thefts. California ranked first and neighboring Alabama ranked 14th.
Officials at OOIDA say legislative efforts to deter cargo theft are a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property.
Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said in most cases of cargo theft that owner-operators would effectively be out of business.
“In the short term, without equipment there is no way to make money and in the long term they might lose business from a freight broker or motor carrier,” Matousek said.
In an effort to discourage thefts in the state, offenders would face prison in addition to monetary penalties. Specifically, thieves who steal cargo from trucks loaded with controlled substances, or pharmaceuticals, valued at less than $10,000 would face fines up to $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.
Theft of controlled substances valued up to $1 million could result in as much as 25 years behind bars and/or fines up to $1 million. Loads valued in excess of $1 million could result in prison terms as long as 30 years and/or fines up to $1 million.
Violators of other property heists valued as much as $1,000 would face misdemeanor charges. Theft of cargo valued as high as $10,000 would include fines up to $100,000 and/or 10 years behind bars. Stolen loads valued in excess of $10,000 could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.
Another provision in the bill covers fifth wheels, and any antitheft locking device attached to the fifth wheel. Any attempt to alter, move or sell a fifth wheel could result in 10-year prison terms and/or $100,000 fines.
OOIDA Director of Security Operations Doug Morris has also said that providing truckers with safe places to park is needed to address this issue.
The Mississippi bill, HB1263, awaits further consideration in the House.