By Keith Goble, Land Line State Legislative Editor
Stiffer punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves in Texas took another step this week toward becoming reality.
The Senate voted 30-1 on Wednesday, April 29, to advance a bill that would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods. The bill awaits further consideration in the House.
Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said that cargo theft by organized crime rings has become a serious problem in the state, as well as nationwide. She put the losses to the state at $23 million between 2012 and 2014.
“Cargo theft is a growing problem nationwide accounting for an estimated loss of $10 billion to $25 billion per year nationwide,” Zaffirini said speaking on the Senate floor. “Because we have one of the busiest ports of entry in the country, Texas is especially vulnerable to this growing problem.”
According to FreightWatch International, in 2013 Texas ranked behind only California in the number of cargo thefts. Florida, Georgia and Illinois rounded out the top five.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said that two of his biggest priorities are keeping people safe and fostering economic conditions. He said that cargo theft puts both at risk.
“It’s time to defend our economy by better equipping law enforcement to target this crime and increasing penalties for offenders,” Patrick said in previous remarks.
Offenders would face felony charges that range from six months behind bars for loads valued at less than $10,000 to as much as life in prison for loads valued at more than $200,000. Any damage to the truck or trailer would also be included in the value of the load.
The bill defines offenders as anyone who “knowingly or intentionally conducts, promotes, or facilitates an activity” involving the receipt, possession, concealment, storage, sale, or abandonment of stolen cargo.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the legislative effort.
Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said cargo theft is a significant problem for everyone involved in the movement of goods, including owner-operators.
“When an owner-operator becomes the victim of cargo theft, which can also include the theft of their tractor and trailer, it can be financially and emotionally devastating,” Matousek said.
He also points out that owner-operators can effectively be put out-of-business without equipment to haul freight. In addition, there might be ramifications from a broker or carrier, including termination.
From an insurance perspective, he said owner-operators are saddled with deductibles, possible increased policy premiums, or even cancellation.
“In short, cargo theft is bad for truckers, bad for consumers, and bad for our economy.”
Zaffirini’s bill, SB1828, awaits assignment to committee in the House. The House version of the bill, HB102, awaits consideration on the House floor.
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