Two legislative bills have been proposed in Vermont to address the crime of retail theft, which most people agree is victimizing merchants at an alarming rate. The bills, both aim to stiffen penalties for the crime in certain circumstances. They come in response to more frequent and more coordinated crimes of theft. Both bills have been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, and H.534 has already made the committee’s agenda multiple times this week. One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Martin LaLonde, serves as committee chair. He is from South Burlington, and the first witness to testify on the bill on Tuesday was Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association. She said the crime of retail theft is significant. According to the police chief in Burlington, incidents of retail theft are up 235 percent this year compared to the previous five years. Devine said all sizes of retailers are being impacted, but the smaller shops are especially feeling the pain. “They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They don’t feel like they’re being heard,” she said. She said there’s a sophistication to the thieves because they know there’s a threshold in Vermont in which merchandise stolen that is worth less than $900 carries little penalty if they get caught. If passed, prosecutors add the total value of merchandise stolen from multiple thefts if the thefts happen within 14 days. So if the first theft didn’t add up to $900, all the subsequent thefts within 14 days of the initial one can add to the total, and if the total is above $900, the thief could spend three years in jail. Devine said the high number of thefts are being driven by drug dependency. In some instances, it’s people looking to sell stolen goods for money to buy drugs.
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