Two legislators in West Virginia want to increase fines and prison time for copper theft to discourage the thefts.

West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, wants to make it a felony when copper vital to any form of emergency communications — even the telephone line of a private residence — is targeted by thieves. Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, wants the state Legislature to pay some attention to the copper thefts.

“I am convinced that copper thieves would not be so bold if there were not people out there buying the stolen product,” Mahan said. “This is an issue of homeland security that needs to be addressed.”

"Several years ago, Mahan proposed a change in the law to tighten procedures for selling metal at scrap dealers, but then-Gov. Joe Manchin countered with a softer measure when the industry protested," says a Register-Herald report.

Under Howell’s legislation, anyone convicted of stealing copper wire if it’s used in communications would face a prison term of one to 10 years, or a $10,000 fine, or both, the report says.

In some instances, he said, thieves are going underground or scaling a telephone pole to steal the wire, only to learn it’s fiber optic. Even though nothing might have been stolen, the owner is faced with a repair bill reaching into the thousands of dollars, the report said.

Howell said, “We need laws with teeth on both ends of the problem and the tools for enforcement if we seriously want it to stop.”