CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday that would create the criminal offense of organized retail crime in West Virginia.

Delegate Rodney Miller (D-Boone), a former county sheriff, said the provisions of the bill (HB 2367) would provide another tool for police officers and prosecutors to go after those who encourage the drug epidemic by hiring drug addicts to participate in retail theft.

“They are sending boosters out into our communities to steal property, bring back to them, so they can have their profit level and in return the consumer in the state of West Virginia is eating the cost of that,” Miller said.

MORE: Read bill here

The bill defines organized retail crime as “the commission of two or more retail crimes, either alone or with any person or persons, as part of an organized scheme within a ninety-day period, and the aggregate value of the retail price of the merchandise involved in the retail crimes exceeds $1,500.”

Opponents of the bill, including Delegate Pat McGeehan (R-Marshall), argued the state already has crimes to cover the illegal activity like theft and shoplifting.

“We need to stop just passing law after law to add to the books. If prosecutors really want to go after criminals use the laws currently on the books,” McGeehan said.

But Miller argued the bill eliminates a series of small crimes and takes them to the next level to get to those who are ordering the criminal activity.

“This takes it higher up the food chain. It gets us to a point where we can take some of these folks out and take their assets away from them,” Miller said. “They don’t care about the people they are using and abusing and causing them to go out and steal in their communities. They don’t care about their next fix. They don’t care about the treatment. They don’t care.”

The bill lays out levels of organized retail crime from misdemeanor to felony with various fines and jail time. The maximum jail time listed is 3 to 15 years.

The bill passed the House 93-4 and was sent to the Senate.

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