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Why the theft of a penny is a felony in Texas

03/07/2013 11:39 PM

03/14/2013 4:37 PM

In Texas, we know the value of a penny.

Why, we even made it a felony to steal one.

In one of the more memorable examples of the Texas Legislature's penny-foolish, pound-foolish lawmaking, our Lege passed a law last session making the theft of a penny coin a state jail felony.

In other words, if you get caught stealing a penny, we'll spend $31 a day for two years to lock you up.

This moment of brilliance was part of a copper theft law passed in the final days of the 2011 Legislature. It was debated, analyzed and argued for months, but nobody noticed it included pennies.

This is important because today is one of the most important in the Legislature.

It's the last day anyone can file another really stupid bill.

The history of the Texas Legislature is filled with bold moments in lawmaking. There was the ban on possessing more than six personal vibrators. (That's worth up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.)

To gauge the Legislature's level of consciousness, a Waco representative filed a prank resolution in 1971 honoring Albert de Salvo for "population control."

The House passed it unanimously.

Then the lawmaker withdrew the resolution and explained that de Salvo was the 1960s "Boston Strangler."

In the office of state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, an aide who worked on the penny felony law does not laugh.

"Everybody knows what that bill was about, and it wasn't pennies," Kelvin Bass said.

West's law punishes scrap metal theft in Texas, including the copper tubing and aluminum thefts costing landlords thousands of dollars.

But the law didn't set a minimum value.

So, for example, stealing a six-pack of aluminum beer cans is also a felony. (But not longnecks.)

A bill in this Legislature proposes a new $500 minimum for felony cases, according to The Texas Tribune.

Bass is frustrated that some prosecutors and lawyers poked fun.

"That's just being snippy," he said.

"They had plenty of time to say something about this. They didn't."

But the new bill is perfect for the Texas Legislature.

It removes all cents.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @budkennedy

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