Updated Feb 14, 2023 - Politics

Minnesota lawmakers look to crack down on catalytic converter thefts

John Marty holds a catalytic converter

Sen. John Marty holds a catalytic converter during a recent committee hearing. Screenshot via MN Senate Media

Proposals aimed at thwarting catalytic converter thieves are zooming toward floor votes at the Capitol after stalling in recent sessions.

Why it matters: Reports of the stolen car part have exploded in recent years, creating costly headaches for vehicle owners across the state and nation.

  • Catalytic converter thefts have risen nationally by 1,215% since 2019, per the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Yes, but: Law enforcement officials say they lack the tools to crack down on the practice, given how easy the parts are to steal and sell.

Driving the thefts: The cylindrical car parts, which make emissions less harmful, can be sawed off the undercarriage of a vehicle in just minutes.

  • Thieves can turn around and sell them for hundreds of dollars apiece because of the high-value metals they contain. Car owners, meanwhile, are saddled with four-figure repair bills and long waits for replacement parts.
  • The telltale sign that the part has been stolen is a loud noise once the car is started.

The big picture: Minnesota has the third-highest number of catalytic converter thefts in the United States, trailing just California and Texas, Joe Boche, a special agent with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau, told lawmakers at a recent Senate hearing.

  • More than 2,300 were stolen in St. Paul last year, a nearly 30% increase from 2021.

What they're doing: DFL lawmakers in the House and Senate want to require catalytic converters to be labeled with the origin vehicle's VIN number once removed from the car.

  • The legislation would also add criminal penalties for possessing a detached catalytic converter that you can't prove is yours and reporting requirements for sales of the used parts.

What they're saying: While local thieves could still offload the parts for cash in neighboring states, Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) told Axios the goal is "making it so it's harder to steal, harder to sell, harder to do everything else."

  • "This still may not eliminate the problem, but I think it's going to make a huge dent in it," Marty said.

Between the lines: Jeremy Estenson, a lobbyist representing the Institute of Scrap Metal Recycling Industries, told lawmakers at a hearing that while the "industry is willing to do their part," adding VIN numbers "doesn’t feel as though its going to do as much to slow the actual crime rate."

  • He said the industry does support more robust record-keeping and harsher penalties.

The intrigue: Marty, who has been working on the issue for three years, noted that his bill didn't even get a single hearing in recent sessions.

  • "[They] wouldn't tell me," he said of the reason for the hold up in the previously GOP-majority Senate. "Every time I'd ask, I'd get met with silence."

What we're watching: Versions in both chambers are on track for floor votes as soon as this month. Marty thinks the bill could pass the Senate with unanimous support.

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