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Bill would create new felonies for retail theft

Warren

State Rep. Harry Warren

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Thieves would face harsher criminal penalties under a measure working its way through the state legislature and sponsored by Rep. Harry Warren, R-Salisbury.

House Bill 384 would create felonies for people caught exchanging stolen items for cash, a gift card or other compensation; using false identification to exchange stolen property for money; stealing more than $20,000 in total merchandise during a 90-day period and planning to sell the items; and leading a retail theft enterprise.

The bill passed the state House on Monday by a unanimous vote among legislators present — 113-0. Now, it goes to the Senate.

Warren, one of three primary sponsors, said the retail theft bill aims to combat organized crime rings and make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute organized theft cases. He said the bill “is absolutely necessary.”

“This is beyond an individual stealing from a store and getting a refund or getting a credit,” Warren said. “This is organized and orchestrated crime for high-dollar amounts.”

He said such crime results in higher costs for shoppers. Retailers raise prices to cover expenses such as anti-shoplifting devices and enhanced surveillance.

“This is something to help curtail costs to our consumers,” Warren said.

Under current law, Warren said, thieves can be changed only in areas where they’re caught. His bill would allow police to press charges based on an aggregated total.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the bill had passed on its first reading in the state Senate. It was awaiting further consideration by the Rules and Operations Committee.

Other primary sponsors of the bill are Reps. John Fraley, R-Mooresville; Jonathan Jordan, R-Jefferson; and Michael Wray, R-Gaston.

Warren said he feels “very good” about the bill’s chances of passing through the Senate. He said retailers have expressed support for the bill.

In a March news release, the N.C. Retail Merchants Association said it supports House Bill 384. For every $1 billion in annual sales, retailers lose more than $700,000 because of organized retail crime, the association said.

“Creating new ways for criminals who are active in organized retail crime to be charged will provide not only a deterrent but also a way for us to get these criminals off the streets and out of our stores,” said Andy Ellen, the association’s president and general counsel.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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