MONTPELIER — In an effort to stem crime that supports opiate addiction, the Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill that would regulate the purchase and sale of precious metals.
By a near-unanimous voice vote, senators backed S.308, which calls for the certification of dealers who buy gold, platinum and other precious metals and closes a loophole that allows fly-by-night dealers to set up shop in the state for a weekend.
“It’s an attempt to stop the secondary trade in stolen precious metals that’s used to fund, in part, opiate addiction,” said Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Burlington. “Someone who is addicted to opiates develops an extremely expensive habit and, in order to feed this habit, often turns to illegal means, either fake prescriptions or doctor shopping or, in worse scenarios, criminal activity to come up with the money that they need.”
In recent years, residents in rural areas — Addison County in particular — have experienced a rash of burglaries in which the thieves target items that can be easily sold for cash, including jewelry and collectible coins.
The bill calls for the certification of precious metals dealers by the state’s Department of Public Safety, which has one year from July 1 to create a plan to institute the certification process. Each dealer — defined as someone engaged in the business of buying or selling precious metals who does more than $2,500 in such business during a 12-month period — would receive a unique identification number.
Dealers would have to become certified — at a cost of $200 — every two years and would undergo criminal background checks. Felony convictions for drug possession, embezzlement, fraud, larceny or an act of violence would disqualify a dealer from receiving certification.
Dealers can also be disqualified if, in the 10 years prior to applying for certification, they have been convicted of misdemeanor petty larceny or receiving stolen property.
Second, the bill establishes record-keeping protocols for dealers. A seller would be required to present photo identification. The dealer, in turn, would be required to take a digital photo of the item being sold and keep a written log with a description of the item — including any engravings or other unique characteristics — the price paid and the name, address and phone number of the seller.
Dealers must share their records upon request by law enforcement. The first draft of the bill required dealers to keep an item for 30 days before selling it, but that timetable was shortened to 10 days; the waiting period under current law.
Dealers also wouldn’t be allowed to pay cash in any transaction of $25 or more.
Third, the bill would shut down a practice in which out-of-state dealers rent a hotel room for the weekend, advertise they are buying gold, then disappear after purchasing potentially stolen property. Dealers would be required to have a permanent location in Vermont and to use their certification number in all advertising.
Last, the bill calls for the Department of Public Safety to establish an email notification system to alert dealers of recently stolen items.
The overwhelming support Friday by the Senate indicates the bill likely will receive final approval next week before heading to the House for debate.
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