Mich. state legislator introduces anti-theft bill

New measure would criminalize the taking of free publications; college and university student newspapers could be beneficiaries

MICHIGAN — Student journalists in Michigan will have a weapon against newspaper theft if a bill passes through the state legislature.

Rep. Elizabeth Brater, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a bill in February that would prohibit anyone to “remove, damage, or destroy five or more copies of a periodical . . . which are offered free of charge . . . with the intent to deprive any other member of the public the opportunity to review any information contained” in the publication. Those who take 100 or more copies of a publication would be presumed to have criminal intent under the law. Violators could face a maximum jail term of 90 days and a maximum fine of $100.

Dave Monforton, Brater1s assistant, said that two theft incidents in her district prompted her introduction of the bill.

Student protesters at University of Michigan who accused the newspaper of being racist confiscated all copies of an issue of The Michigan Daily. At Eastern Michigan University, a disgruntled employee stole copies of The Eastern Echo.

It was difficult to prosecute both cases, Monforton said, because there was no declared value on the newspapers. The bill would give students a weapon to prosecute those who steal newspapers, he said.

Monforton said that this has become an issue for Brater because she represents a district where many college campuses are located.

“If anyone would understand, it would be her,” he said.

The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, and Brater has not asked for a hearing. There will not be a hearing before the fall, according to Monforton.

reports, Spring 1998