| Kevin Earl
A proposed local law aimed at curbing property thefts is back before the County Legislature after undergoing revisions to more narrowly focus its intent on pawn shops and other businesses most commonly favored by criminals to fence stolen goods.
County Attorney Kevin Earl worked with a variety of interested parties, including District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster to draft proposed language that would still meet the intent of the legislation, but ensure it only hit its target without potentially adding an unintended regulatory burden to other local businesses.
The original bill was introduced in November and met some initial opposition from some members of the Legislature and some local business owners.
The key change of the law narrows the scope of the regulations to businesses known as "pervasively regulated." Prior case law has established that certain business activities can be monitored by the government without a warrant because of the nature of the business. In New York, these already include pawn shops, coin dealers, chop shops, and other enterprises that can be used as fronts for stolen property.
The change ensures the law can't be used to impose regulations on commercial thrift-type stores, used book and record stores, antique stores, or businesses that resell gift cards, among other establishments that might have been swept up in the prior broader language of the law.
Public Services Committee Chair Shelly Stein said during yesterday's committee meeting that it's important to remember the purpose of the law.
"We are trying to assist victims of theft and robbery in the county," Stein said.
Even so, the revised bill isn't supported by all members of the Legislature. Both legislators John Deleo and Andrew Young said they are uncomfortable adding another layer of regulation on private enterprise.
"We have one pawn shop here and we're creating more mandated laws when we get upset when the state puts mandates on us," Deleo said. "I don't think it's right. I have faith in law enforcement that if we have a problem, we can solve it. I don't care how much lipstick we put on this, I have a hard time buying into it. I guess I have more faith in law enforcement.
After the meeting, Young said he still isn't satisfied with the language of the law.
"It has been suggested that the decision to be made to pass this law is easy because it is simply to choose between victims of stolen goods and potential criminals," Young said. "I don’t agree that is what it is about. The decision to be made is to weigh the cost of additional government rules, regulations and reporting requirements against the value those government-imposed burdens provide towards assisting victims of theft.
"The changes made make this law better and somewhat less intrusive. I am not sure we have reached the point where the value of this law outweighs the cost."
Another significant change is the elimination of the licensing fee for a qualified secondhand dealer.
"We did this to address the suggestion that this was only a money grab by the county," said County Clerk Michael Cianfrini. "We wanted to eliminate that concern."
Earl said he's confident that changes in the bill's language will help it withstand any potential Constitutional challenge.
Niagara County passed a new law similar in language to the original draft of Genesee County's law and Earl said officials up there, after he shared his concerns with them about the local law, don't intend to make changes.
"Niagara County had nobody show up at their public hearing," Earl said. "There were no objections. It's probably a good thing we had objections up front or we might have had problems on the back end."
Brewster said just discussion of the law has compelled Pawn King on Veterans Memorial Drive, Batavia, to start using Leads Online, a digital service used by pawn shops to enter items received into a searchable database. Law enforcement agencies can then subscribe to the service (there's no cost to the merchants who participate) so they can see what items are coming into the shop and check the list of items reported stolen.
Pawn King was already using the service in other counties where it does business because those counties legally compel Pawn King to use Leads Online.
Brewster said passage of a similar law locally will ensure Pawn King continues to use the service and will help ensure their compliance is thorough.
Businesses required to record transactions and hold items for at least 10 days under the law could lose their license and be forced to close if found out of compliance.
Mike Barrett, owner of Barrett Marine, said after the meeting that with the revisions, he's more comfortable that the new law. If passed, it won't apply to Barrett's business, but the owner of John G. Cooper Coin Shop in Le Roy said at age 76, this law may be a signal that it's time to retire.