JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The price for stealing utilities could soon be much higher.
Right now the Florida Senate and House are debating identical bills that would increase the charge of stealing a utility from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
"Anytime anyone steals from JEA they are stealing from this entire community," says JEA Spokesperson Gerri Boyce.
Boyce says JEA is in full support of HB 191 and SB 338.
Boyce says that between October 1, 2012 and January 31, 2013, approximately 520 cases of theft and fraud have been discovered.
"It's about $243,000 that have been impacted by this, and that's why we aggressively go after anyone who takes services without pay."
Real estate broker Steven Croy says utility theft is widespread in all neighborhoods, despite income.
He says the problem grew when the economy began to fall. While JEA says new, digital meters have reduced number of electricity thefts in recent years, Croy says thieves still find a way.
"It's almost scary. I've seen the numbers and it may be to the point where you start looking across the street and it's happening."
Statewide, utility thefts are estimated between $1 to $2 billion a year.
"I have seen it for years, so it's surprising that it took this long to get to the state level."
Croy believes the potential 30 year prison sentence is appropriate in many cases.
"A slap on the hand doesn't necessarily make a significant difference. It's when they have that penalty, in this case they're talking a felony, that they suffer and think before they act."
If both bills pass the Florida Senate and House, the tougher penalties could become state law on October 1.