If you're caught looting during a disaster, you could face jail time and big fines. The state Legislature is introducing a bill that will increase penalties for burglars and would-be thieves.

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Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said that he will introduce legislation to increase the penalty for looting during a state of emergency. The bill upgrades burglary to a crime of the second degree when the crime is perpetrated where a state of emergency is in force.

Proposed Bill Would Stiffen Penalties

"This most recent series of disasters really opened our eyes to the tragedies that can occur during times of hardship," O'Scanlon said. "With nature reeking havoc and ruining people's lives it is incomprehensible to think that there are those who would take advantage of the folks who are suffering most."

O'Scanlon said that the bill was currently being drafted and would be introduced at the next possible meeting of the General Assembly. This bill would upgrade the crime of burglary when it is committed in a jurisdiction where a state of emergency is in force. Under the provisions of this bill, a violator is guilty of a crime of the second degree which is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 5 to 10 years; a fine of up to $150,000; or both.

"This bill is a message to all would-be thieves and burglars - a state of emergency does not mean the fruit is ripe for picking," explained O'Scanlon. "And if you think that a disaster is an entrée to looting, you are going to be sorely disappointed. The punishment will match the crime."

"I will work with the Attorney General's office, prosecutors and law enforcement officials around the state to get this bill right." O'Scanlon stated, adding, "but the bottom line is that we will not tolerate those who would make victims of the victimized. There can be know half way with this breed of crimes."