JEFFERSON CITY - Drivers who pump without paying would have their Missouri driver's license suspended under legislation moving throught Missouri's legislature.
The measure was approved by the House and now awaits action in the Senate before the May 18 end of the legislative session. License suspensions would last up to six months.
"My members are losing significant amounts of money from people stealing fuel," said Ronald J. Leon, executive vice president of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
Leon said the petroleum industry lost $234 million in 1999 because of drivers who filled their tanks but did not pay, an average loss of about $2,600 for each gas station.
"The price of the gas right now and how small the penalty is, is one of the reasons why people are trying to drive away without paying," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi. "This bill will just put a stronger penalty on someone who was driving away without paying for the gas."
Crump said the number of thefts increases in relation to its price, with more people stealing gas when it is more expensive.
Gas prices in mid-Missouri have increased to around $1.70 in recent weeks.
Wendy Willingham, who has run a gas station in the east part of Columbia for two years, favors tougher penalties.
"The drive offs seem to increase when I get new employees and they don't pay too much attention," she said. "I think it's more a problem of attention, rather than security."
Rep. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis City, said his community has also had problems with drive offs. "We needed to set a penalty to stop that, we needed to put more teeth on the law," Kennedy, co-sponsor of the bill, said.
"It's my understanding that this is a state wide issue," Crump said. "Especially with so many pumps with credit card payment, it gets harder for the person inside the store to keep track of everything. They are all getting a lot more drive aways," he said.
The suspension would last sixty days for first offenders. Multiple violations would carry a 90 to 180 day suspension.
For Kennedy, it is a needed penalty. "You are taking somebody's money, you are committing a crime, it's a penalty deserved by the crime," he said.