Colo. lawmakers considering bill that would outlaw theft of free newspapers

COLORADO — A bill under consideration by the ColoradoGeneral Assembly would make the theft of free newspapers, including student-runnewspapers at Colorado colleges and universities, a misdemeanorcrime.House Bill 1057, which is expected to pass, will fine thieves upto $5,000 for taking newspapers from distribution racks ”with the intentto prevent other individuals from reading that edition of the newspaper.”Taking five newspapers or more would constitute theft under the bill.Theamount of the fine varies by the number of newspapers stolen. If 100 or fewernewspapers were stolen, the fine would be up to $1,000. If 100 to 500 newspaperswere stolen, the fine would be up to $2,500 and if more than 500 newspapers arestolen, the fine would be up to $5,000.Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville,sponsored the bill because a number of newspaper thefts in Colorado cities werebrought to his attention.”Last year, one of my constituents thatruns a small weekly newspaper had a problem with people stealing the freenewspaper. Then this summer in Aspen, Colo., someone stole 8,000 newspapers offof one run,” Miller said. Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs,said he sponsored the bill in the Senate because he was concerned that Coloradodistrict attorneys were not prosecuting individuals for stealing freenewspapers.”[In a newspaper theft], three people get injured: thenewspaper, the reader and the advertiser,” Taylor said. ”It’sdefrauding somebody. It’s stealing from somebody, and it’s importantto prosecute these things.”Miller said that even free newspapershave a monetary value.”When you have a paper full ofadvertisements, there is thousands of dollars involved,” Millersaid.The bill also allows a newspaper publisher, advertiser or reader aprivate civil right to sue the individual or group that stole the newspapers.The newspaper publisher would be entitled to actual damages, a penalty of $10for each newspaper stolen and attorney fees. The advertiser or reader would beentitled to unspecified actual damages and attorney fees.The bill passedthe House Committee on Business Affairs and Labor and in the full House. OnMarch 1, the bill passed the Senate Committee on State Veterans and MilitaryAffairs.The committee recommended that the bill be amended to includethe phrase, ”including, without limitation, any student periodicaldistributed at any institution of higher learning.”The bill, givena favorable recommendation by the committee, is being read in the Senate. TheSenate could approve the bill as soon as March 9. If passed, the bill would besent back to Miller to double-check the language andamendments.”I’m absolutely confident it will pass the Senateoverwhelmingly,” Miller said.Taylor said he believes the bill willpass and the governor will sign it.If the bill passes, Colorado will bethe second state to implement a newspaper anti-theft bill. Maryland adopted ananti-newspaper theft law in 1994 after several college and commercial newspaperslobbied for its creation.This school year, 12 incidents of newspapertheft have been reported to the Student Press Law Center.

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