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    Crime at the Pumps Targeted

    Indiana initiative aims to limit c-store drive-offs; decal on pump warns of penalties.

    After first seeing the decals at a Georgia convenience store, Indiana Rep. Dave Crooks (D-Washington) began handing out pump decals to convenience store retailers that warn consumers they could lose their driver?s licenses if they leave the pumps without paying for gas.

    With gas prices on the rise in the Midwest -- and consequently an increase in drive-offs -- Crooks took Georgia?s idea back home to the General Assembly this session, reported the Evansville Courier & Press.

    Starting this summer, Indiana motorists will see a similar decal at gas stations with State Police Superintendent Melvin Carraway telling them, "Don?t pump and run. Drive away without paying for gas and your driver?s license can be suspended."

    According to the report, Indiana c-stores have been pummeled financially by drive-offs, especially since last year when gasoline prices started to climb. Mike Pitts, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, estimates the law could save gas stations $2 million annually, cutting the expected loss by half.

    The average station lost a hefty $1,000 last year as a result of drive-offs, Pitts said. "We have a lot of evidence to suggest some people who steal gasoline somehow think they?re getting even with the big oil companies," he said. "The fallacy is it?s the local station operators they hurt. When it?s stolen from him, he?s the one who?s out the money."

    Chuck Taylor Jr., president of C.E. Taylor Oil Co., which operates 23 Shell stations in Southwestern Indiana, has experienced that loss directly. Crooks picked one of Taylor?s stores in his hometown of Washington to hold a news conference to stick Indiana?s first decal to a pump last week. "When someone steals 20, 30 bucks worth of gas, I pay for that," Crooks said, according to the news report. "That adds to the bottom line. It may mean a penny more for gas to help pay for drive-offs. We pay for being honest."

    And, Taylor said, it means less tax revenue to the state, which in turn means less money to pay for government services. Indiana reaps 20 cents in sales and gas taxes on each gallon.

    House Bill 1066, authored by Crooks, flew through the State Legislature with only a handful of "no" votes, the report said. The dozen or so who opposed it raised a pair of questions:
    * Isn?t gas theft already illegal?
    * And why does gas theft get punished twice, as opposed to any other kind of theft?

    The answer to the first, rhetorical question is, "yes." Gas theft is punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The answer to the second question, Crooks said, is that the driver?s license punishment has worked in other states and drive-offs are as much about driving privileges as theft.

    License suspensions will last 30 days. Offenders must pay a $10 reinstatement fee at the end of that period to get the license back. The law becomes effective July 1. The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association will pay for the decals, Crooks said.

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