A St. Paul lawmaker has drafted legislation this year in hopes of curbing a rash of copper wire thefts that have darkened streets, cost millions in repairs and resulted in injuries to Minnesotans.

The bill, authored by Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, would require a commissioner-approved license for people who buy or sell copper in Minnesota. Businesses purchasing copper would be required to track each sale and scan the sellers' license. Hollins introduced the bill in February, courting support from state officials and local leaders. She said in a statement Thursday that her bill would regulate the market for would-be buyers and sellers. If passed into law, it could come into effect as soon as Jan. 1, 2025.

"The theft and sale of stolen copper wire is a priority concern for the city of St. Paul, and many other communities across the state," a statement by Hollins read. "On Wednesday we had an extremely productive meeting with Gov. [Tim] Walz and Mayor [Melvin] Carter, and I feel confident that we will be moving language forward to address this critical issue."

Legislators returned to the Capitol last month and are expected to convene until the session ends in May. People who want to get a license must provide their name, address, phone number and an undetermined fee to a commissioner who decides whether to approve the request in 90 days. The current version of the bill mandates that the commissioner review and renew licenses after a year if applicants abide by the law and pay a $500 renewal fee. Hollins said they are still working out which state department's commissioner will oversee licenses.

Copper wire thieves have troubled Minnesota cities for years, damaging 2,000 streetlights in St. Paul last month. The city spent $1.2 million repairing wire theft damage in 2023. It cost $250,000 five years ago. Ramsey County prosecutors launched 19 cases for wire thefts this year, more than double what they filed last year.

"It feels like our entire city is being violated by these folks who just don't have that regard for our infrastructure," Ward 2 City Council Member Rebecca Noecker said.

About 100 residents gathered for a forum on the issue Tuesday, questioning officials such as St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Police Chief Axel Henry, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Noecker. Henry said vehicles are striking animals and residents because of low visibility from stripped lights. Steven Wirtz, 64, was struck by a car and killed alongside his dog on Christmas Eve. Neighbors blamed copper wire thieves whose efforts darkened the street where Wirtz was hit. One attendee living near Lake Phalen counted 200 lights stripped of copper wiring. Another who lives near Como Park said crews repaired streetlights there once in the past year.

"That's not true," said Public Works Director Sean Sean Kershaw.

Kershaw said they sometimes replace dozens of lights in every neighborhood every day, thanks in part to $500,000 approved by the city to hire a full-time electrician crew. His employees weld access panels, activate streetlights in the day and use silent alarms to curb copper wire thefts. Officials say none of that has worked, sometimes prompting thieves to steal from another part of the city.

Copper from one light pole could resell for $30. Fixing each pole costs up to $2,500.

"The lights have been replaced, and they're immediately stolen. That's why it's so frustrating," Kershaw said, adding that other cities and counties are experiencing similar thefts. "This is why we think the legislation is so important. We want to kick out the market for even that $30 so that we don't have to spend $1,000 to $2,000 replacing it."

As legislators weigh whether to approve the bill, St. Paul officials say residents can help by registering security cameras with police and by reporting suspicious activity.