Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Retail theft bill clears Senate committee, stalls in House

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Legislation that would make it a Class B felony for two or more people to steal from stores, no matter the value of what is stolen, cleared a Senate committee but was delayed by a House panel Wednesday.

House Bill 288 and Senate Bill 206 also create a new crime of organized theft and increase penalties for retail theft committed by individuals. The companion bills are a priority of district attorneys and retail groups.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, bill sponsor Sen. Clyde Chambliss heard some concerns from fellow lawmakers about potential unintended consequences of the proposal, but ultimately the bill was advanced to the full Senate.

A few hours later, bill sponsor Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that stores are shutting down because of theft losses. And others are passing along the costs to consumers. Stronger penalties are needed to deter thieves, he said.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said that before theft is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a value threshold needs to be put into the law. People shouldn’t go to prison for stealing candy bars, he said.

“This bill is the king of unintended consequences,” he said.

Ellie Taylor, president of the Alabama Grocers Association, told the committee that infant formula is the No. 1 item stolen from stores. She cited the March arrest of two men who were stealing thousands of dollars worth of formula from stores near Atlanta.

Stolen and then sold formula is a food safety issue, Taylor said.

But harsher penalties for stealing food for babies gave some lawmakers pause on Wednesday.

“If a mother and father are starving, and they come in to steal a can of baby formula to feed a baby that’s starving, we’ve set it up now for that to be a Class B felony,” Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne said. Simpson, a former assistant district attorney, said he had been supportive of the bill, but asked it be sent to a subcommittee for additional work.

Committee chairman Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, agreed and said he’d like the bill brought back to the committee next week.

Treadaway said that if a monetary threshold is added before organized theft becomes a felony, thieves will always stay just under it but steal repeatedly.

“This is a major problem in this country and if we can work on it right and target the individuals we’re trying to target — otherwise we’re going to have stores closing down all around us,” Treadaway said. 

ADN’s Todd Stacy contributed to this report.

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia