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Wednesday, April 10

Secondhand Law Tabled!

Monroe County Legislature voted unanimously 27-0 to table the current proposed legislation regarding a local law to regulate pawnbrokers, secondhand dealers and jewelry and coin exchange dealers put forth by Representative Carmen Gumina.  Several shop owners and dealers from around the county attended the open public forum to express their various concerns.  Everyone seemed to come to the same conclusion:  the proposal would significantly hurt established businesses and thereby reduce business opportunities for our county.  Creating more problems to try to solve one problem seemed to be the common theme.

What steps will be taken next is unsure.  However, it is very encouraging that the Mr Gumina and the legislature in general listened to the concerns of the business community.

Tuesday, April 9

Letter to Monroe County

The following is the letter I am submitting to our Monroe County Legislature today with my views about many of the problems concerning the proposed local law to regulate Pawnbrokers, Secondhand Dealers and Jewelry and Coin Exchange Dealers. 

Even if you are not a New York State or Monroe County business, you may want to check with your own local bodies as to what, if any, proposals are cropping up.  The concepts have been seen in many states!

April 8, 2013

To The Honorable
Monroe County Legislature
407 County Office Building
Rochester NY 14614

Subject:  A Local Law to regulate Pawnbrokers, Secondhand Dealers and Jewelry and Coin Exchange Dealers

At the end of March I learned about the proposed local law to regulate pawnbrokers, secondhand dealers and jewelry and coin exchange dealers in Monroe County.    As a small business secondhand dealer in antiques and collectibles for 35 years, I am deeply concerned about this flawed and unnecessary proposal.

The main premise of the proposal states:
“Law enforcement across our community currently lack a tool that allows them to recover stolen goods that are quickly sold to pawnbrokers, secondhand dealers and jewelry and coin exchange dealers.

I respectfully submit the proposed law is based on false premises.  Furthermore it would, in fact, become a severe detriment to the operations of hundreds of small businesses in Monroe County if it were to pass in the current text.  Instead of alleviating any problem of stolen goods, the proposed law will make criminals out of law abiding, honest business people.

Although NY law looks at all merchants of secondhand goods as the same type of operation, they are not.  A pawnshop is an entirely different entity than an antiques shop or co-op.  A jewelry and coin exchange is another entity as well.    To legislate all these different entities under one guideline is akin to making one law that applies equally to a doctor’s office, a nursing home, a general hospital, and a massage therapist office!

Mr. Gumina’s claim that “New York State has failed to address this issue” is not a complete truth.   In 2001 NY State Senate Bill S427 and Assembly Bill A497 argued similar ideas as in the current proposal suggesting that fees, reporting requirements, police notifications, proof of identity, etc. would alleviate the problem of stolen goods.   The measures failed to become state law after all the problems and complications became clear and support dwindled.   The State legislative bodies recognized that stolen property crimes would not be resolved by creating difficult, burdensome, unnecessary regulations and fees on small business owners.   It is the wrong approach.

Section 382-2. Legislative Intent.   Creating a county wide system of licensing and reporting.

The intent of the law is flawed.  What is the evidence for making a claim that monitoring all transactions, requiring massive data filing and licensing requirements will curtail distribution and facilitate recovery of stolen property?   Stolen goods are regularly liquidated through internet sales, physically taken out of the County, or sold on the streets.     The proposal places significant burden on the Sheriff’s Department, local police stations and legitimate business owners.   Financing this operation will be very costly to the County.

Throughout the proposal the language shifts back and forth from “all secondhand articles” to jewelry and precious metal references.  “All secondhand goods” is an extremely large scope and covers any item on earth that is sold! 

Section 382.4. Definitions  

Item G.  defines precious metals to include gold, silver, platinum, copper or coins, utensils or objects containing one or more of those metals.  Electronics and cell phones can contain gold.  Costume jewelry and home decorative items made of copper often have little value.  Are all these included?    The precious metals market fluctuates daily and many commodities are not covered so what is the requirement for these?  The definitions are limited and vague.

Section 382-6. Licensing

1.       A fee of $250, required annually and expires on Dec 31 of each year, is an exorbitant fee! 

2.      The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department does not have the staff and funding to license every secondhand business in Monroe County annually.   I also seriously doubt the Department can license all the required businesses in Monroe County within a reasonable time period so as to not cut business operations in the county.  The County will lose sales tax revenues should businesses cease operations.

3.      The requirements for employee registrations at a Sheriff’s Department are not required of most other businesses in the county or state.  What is the application to an antique co-op?

4.      What is the implication to home-based businesses with regards to Sheriff’s “right to enter upon such premises during normal business hours for the purpose of making inspections”?

5.      What is the intention of requiring the Sheriff’s Department to file and approve licenses when all other business licenses are generally handled through the County Clerk or appropriate State license agency?    Conducting business is generally not the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.
6.      Why would a Sheriff have a right to deny a business license to someone who wants to establish a new business entity?   Where is the due process of law?

Section 382-6 Licensing
Item I.  “No dealer’s license shall be issued for a period of one year to any applicant that has been found guilty of operating a business without a secondhand dealer’s license”.

If this proposal passed, the sheer volume of existing businesses in Monroe County needing licenses will create a substantial backlog of applications.  Does the county legislature seek to deny business operations to existing businesses while they go through an extended application process time?  This surely is poor government regulation at a time when we are looking for ways to increase jobs and growth in our state.

Item K.  Exemptions
1.      No. 2 – private sales, aka garage sales, yards sales, etc. are an easy way to sell off stolen property!  There is no possible way to monitor such sales without additional legislation.  If that is the intent of this proposal, more must be defined.

2.      Any Jewelry or Coin Exchange Dealer whose annual gross retail sales are comprised of less than 15% Secondhand Articles.   The legal establishment of who is covered under a 15% exclusion is virtually impossible to determine or enforce.  Even Federal and State year-end tax reports would not provide such data.

3.      Dealers in secondhand cars should not be excluded.  Cars are frequently stolen!

Section 382.7 General Operations

The burden of police enforcement and establishing suspected guilt is shifted to the non-professional layperson that operates a store.  This is a dangerous move in any society and not good law.  No one should be placed in the position to “suspect” criminals in the course of ordinary business.  This puts the private citizen in grave jeopardy.   

Furthermore, Item D establishes that if property is deemed to be stolen that the shop owner which purchased the merchandise has no recourse to recover lost monetary expenses.  This appears to be a negation of citizen rights against harm applied.

Section 382.8.  Identification Required   

Item A requires the shop owner to “verify the identity of every person from whom a purchase is made”.  Item D requires a copy or digital photo of the identifications to be maintained by the dealer.    These are impossible tasks to accomplish for the merchant and will be rebuked by most citizens of the county who want to sell their personal goods.     Store owners are not trained identity experts!

No provision is given for purchasing items outside the realm of a shop.  What is the affect for flea markets?  Estate sales?  Antiques Shows?  Co-ops?  Private in-home estate purchases?

It is a false premise to assume that identity confirms ownership.

Section 382-9.  Reporting

Item A.    The entire burden of investigation and notification of stolen goods is placed upon the small business entity.    Businesses are unreasonably burdened with a 48 hour time period to report a great deal of information AND to watch the papers for reports of stolen goods.   A much better system would be to develop a communications system from the police departments to stores in their area when stolen goods are reported.

Item B.  Reporting requirements demand an electronic upload of data with use of very specific software to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.   Most small businesses, even those with computer usage, will not have the specific software necessary to make such an upload.  To comply, as it is currently written, would require a full time data processing staff!   Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the Sheriff’s Department wants to receive a large quantity of phone calls each day to report to hear a time estimate of when the next report will come from a store.

It should be considered that massive uploading of data to the Monroe County Sheriff’s data system creates the potential for system complications and failures.

Section 382-10.  Enforcement and Penalties

Law abiding business people who are given impossible laws to follow will be turned into criminals by default!  This is extremely poor design.  If the intent of this law is to aid in the return of stolen goods, then the business people who are involved in the scope of the law should not be made the criminal.  

Legislation should be written to protect business operations and not create an environment of undue burden and thus create law breaking by un-intentions.

Section 382—11.  Severability

Item B.   “This chapter shall not supersede any similar legislation enacted by a local jurisdiction within the County.”  

There are many flaws in the scope of this legislative proposal yet the burden of correction will have to be done item by item by item.

Any town within the County that passes local law for similar situations will not be part of the county wide Sheriff’s Department data base.   This totally negates the benefit of having a central area of all data.   To consider that stolen property will remain within a township border is completely invalid.   All the intent of this proposed legislation becomes defunct by its own statures.

In Summary

If the Monroe County Legislature feels that there is a significant problem within Monroe County in regards to the fraudulent buying and selling of stolen goods in commercial establishments, then the County would best be served by establishing a mutual system of co-operation among businesses and law enforcement agencies involved.  

A system whereby the police agencies can share information with area businesses that stolen goods may be in the marketplace will do a much greater service to the residents of the county. 

The proposed legislation only creates an environment of extreme hardship and financial burdens under the threat of legal prosecution upon established businesses in our community.   This law, if enacted, will deter business growth and taxable income for our county.