Just a few weeks into the 2024 legislative sessions, state lawmakers are wasting no time introducing bills aimed at cracking down on organized retail crime (ORC). Lawmakers in 16 states have already introduced 30 bills that would broadly toughen penalties for thieves involved in organized retail theft operations. Many of these proposals, in addition to increasing penalties, would strengthen prosecutors' powers to indict criminals who commit multiple theft offenses or create a separate offense for ORC in the state's criminal code. Below is a breakdown of the bills introduced this session and the categories they fall under:
- Increase penalties for individuals involved in organized retail theft. Lawmakers in 10 states have introduced 13 bills that would increase penalties for those accused of participating in an organized retail theft. Arizona and California lawmakers have filed bills (AZ HB 2435, CA AB 1772 and CA SB 923) that would strengthen penalties for repeat offenders of retail theft. Meanwhile, a bill introduced in New Jersey (NJ AB 1271) would increase penalties for thieves who assault retail workers. Other bills seeking to increase the penalties for retail theft include: FL SB 1222, HI HB 1716, HI HB 2585, NE LB 19, NY AB 8473, UT SB 128, WA SB 5056, WA SB 5160, WI AB 928 and WI SB 701.
- Allow law enforcement and prosecutors to aggregate the total value of goods stolen across the state. Lawmakers in California, Florida, Oklahoma and Vermont have introduced seven pieces of legislation that would allow police and prosecutors to charge an individual with the total amount stolen across multiple jurisdictions over a specified time frame (generally 90 days). Legislation in Florida (FL SB 824 and FL HB 549) and Oklahoma (OK SB 1450) would even allow theft amounts to be aggregated over the course of a year. Other bills introduced allowing thefts to be aggregated include: CA AB 1779, VT SB 297, VT HB 534 and VT HB 579.
- Create the offense of organized retail crime in the state's criminal code. Lawmakers in seven states – California, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina and Vermont — are considering legislation that either creates or amends their criminal codes with ORC as a separate offense: CA AB 1802, CA SB 928, HI HB 1716, HI HB 2585, MD SB 100, MO HB 1652, NJ AB 1264, NJ SB 582, SC HB 4187 and VT HB 579.
- Establish a statewide ORC Task Force. Currently, thirteen states have a dedicated ORC Task Force to coordinate activity among law enforcement, prosecutors and businesses with the intention of stopping multi-jurisdictional retail crime rings. Lawmakers in Ohio are considering legislation (OH HB 366) that would create an ORC Task Force, while two bills introduced in Hawaii (HI HB 1716 and HI HB 2585) each include a provision to create a task force as part of a comprehensive plan to address sentencing for ORC offenders.
In addition to these bills, the Governors of California and New York have stepped up their responses to the rise in retail theft this month. New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) sent a clear and powerful message to retail thieves in her recent State of the State address saying, “The chaos must end.” Governor Hochul outlined a list of initiatives that her administration is planning to roll out that will address issues raised by retailers and law enforcement. Some of the key items include creating dedicated teams within the New York State Police to enforce and investigate ORC cases, tax relief for business owners investing in added security measures, and funding District Attorney offices throughout the state to focus on ORC.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) is asking lawmakers to advance a legislative package that will address the prevalence of ORC in the state. Five bills have been introduced that would increase penalties for repeat offenders (CA AB 1772 and CA SB 923), allow for theft aggregation (CA AB 1779), and extend the life of ORC as a crime in the state’s criminal code (CA SB 928 and CA AB 1802). Governor Newsom also proposed an additional $373.5 million to be spent on efforts to combat organized retail theft. Last September, the Newsom Administration dedicated $267 million just in competitive grants to help local police departments tackle retail theft.