Earlier this month, I worked with State Rep. Joan Ballweg to introduce a bill that I believe, if enacted, will help reduce the theft of gasoline at gas stations.
There is an ever-growing problem of people filling their vehicles with gasoline and driving off without paying. Some estimates put the loss to individual gas stations at about $1,000 a year, with the total lost to gas stations in the state at more than $1 million. As the price of gas has increased in recent years, the theft of gasoline has become an increasingly expensive problem.
In fact, the problem of gasoline theft has grown so much that one Minnesota town recently considered a local ordinance requiring all gas stations be pre-pay. In this town, in 2010, there were 492 reports of fuel theft, and only two percent resulted in arrests. On the other hand, in the same town, 74 percent of shoplifting reports results in arrests. The local police chief in that town thought the proposal to require pre-pay would free up his police force, rather than having them focus as much on fuel theft, which can be difficult to investigate. A similar ordinance was considered in Green Bay last year, but was defeated out of concern of imposing more government regulations on businesses.
Other states and Canadian provinces have chosen to tackle the problem of gasoline theft in different ways. Some places require pre-pay of gasoline, as mentioned above. Between 1998 and 2005, 27 states passed laws giving judges the authority to suspend someone’s driver’s license for gasoline theft. Other states have increased the fine for stealing gasoline in recent years.
The bill I have introduced, Senate Bill 314, would allow the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (WPMCA) to act as a bonded agent for their members, and have access to the Department of Transportation database to obtain the name and address to whom a vehicle is registered. This means that gas station owners could obtain the information they need when gasoline is stolen, but individual gas station owners would not have access to the entire Department of Transportation vehicle database.
The gas station owner, after a vehicle drives off without paying for gas, would contact WPMCA with the time and date of the drive-off, the license plate number for the vehicle, and the retail value of that fuel. WPMCA would then access the Department of Transportation vehicle records and provide the station owner with the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle.
Under the bill, it would then the responsibility of the gas station owner to send a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle in an attempt to collect restitution for the fuel, plus a service fee of up to $30. If the person does not respond to the letter, the fuel retailer may file a civil suit to collect the amount, plus court costs.
Senate Bill 314 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Elections. I am hopeful that the chairperson of this committee will schedule a public hearing on this bill as soon as possible and I look forward to continue working with Ballweg on this legislation.
Gasoline theft impacts all of us, although it is not something most of us think about. Like other retail theft, the cost of the stolen product is ultimately passed on to other customers. By giving gas station and convenience store owners another tool to recover the cost of stolen fuel, Senate Bill 314 is another way we can make it easier to do business in Wisconsin and protect consumers from the added costs of theft.