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Minnesota House bill aims to crackdown on catalytic converter thefts

2 bills aimed at Minnesota’s pocketbooks
2 bills aimed at Minnesota’s pocketbooks 02:01

St. Paul, Minn. -- A proposal moving forward at the capitol aims to crack down on thefts of catalytic converters, which have soared in communities across the state over the last couple of years.  

The legislation creates new criminal penalties for the possession or sale of the car part, which is part of an exhaust system containing valuable precious metals in it. 

The proposal also spells out new requirements for scrap dealers looking to buy the catalytic converters, including having markings on the part identifying the car it once belonged to, or getting a copy of the vehicle's title or registration from the seller.

"There are real people who are impacted," said Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, the bill's sponsor. "These thefts are hurting Minnesotans' pocketbooks as the replacement cost can exceed $2,000 or result in a total loss in the vehicle."

The most recent data available from State Farm shows Minnesota was fifth in the nation for the number of insurance claims related to catalytic converter thefts. Nationwide, stealing this part from a car soared by 400%, according to the insurance company.

West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon told the House Commerce Committee on Monday that thefts skyrocketed in his city of five square miles and 21,000 residents.

In 2018, there were four thefts and zero in 2019, he said, but that grew to 45 in 2020. The numbers increased again nearly four-fold in 2021 and 2022.

"These thefts occur on our residential streets and driveways of homes, school parking lots and lots of businesses," Sturgeon said. "It affects our residents and visitors to the city. We have residents who have been victimized more than once, sometimes two or three times."

If the bill is approved, there'd also be a new electronic database set up for law enforcement to track sales of the part at authorized scrap dealers. 

This proposal follows a state pilot program that offered free offers free labels with serial numbers to 100 local police departments and auto repair shops. Those entities could give the labels to Minnesotans who drive the most targeted cars for thefts.

Mechanics etched the unique markings, which had a number and a QR code, onto catalytic converters with acid paint, which allows them to be registered and traced by law enforcement.

Jeremy Estenson, lobbying on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, testified that the industry has concerns about databases and a provision that would require scrap dealers to delay the sale of a catalytic converter for a week after receiving it.

The bill advanced out of committee on a voice vote all Republicans and Democrats approving it. It will have subsequent hearings in the House.

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