MONTGOMERY — Legislation that creates new crime categories and penalties specifically for retail theft and organized retail theft passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

The Retail Theft Crime Prevention Act by State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) would establish the crime of retail theft that is committed "when a person uses various means to deprive a merchant of all or part of the value of merchandise, including concealing merchandise on his or her person; altering or removing price tags; concealing merchandise in other containers; failing to scan items or otherwise pay for items at self-checkout registers; and other means. Penalties for a violation would be contingent upon the aggregate value of the items stolen. This bill would also establish the crime of organized retail theft to establish an aggravated form of retail theft."

"I know the Wal-Mart that I know of they're having a couple hundred thousand a year in losses based in thefts so I love the bill because I'm tired of our businesses being toted away," State Sen. Lance Bell (R-Pell City) said at the meeting. "That's what's happening in Pell City and in some others. They're being toted away. It's our own citizens. I hate to say that but most of them are our own citizens, our own people living close by. It gives law enforcement and prosecutors a little bit of a different weapon." 

Bell added, "[W] e're seeing people go in and take a buggy and put large merchandise in the Home Depot and places and just shove it right on through and keep going." 

"We've got to protect our businesses, and this does that to a certain degree," Bell continued.

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville), who voted for the bill, said that he would "acknowledge this is a problem and we've got to do something about it, but we've got to be conscious about how we do it" so honest mistakes like forgetting to scan an item aren't criminally charged.

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