ST. PAUL — A rash of catalytic converter thefts from cars across the state and nation has Minnesota lawmakers working to keep them from being resold on the black market.
By requiring additional documentation on the devices and limiting their purchase, legislators seek to make the theft of catalytic converters less appealing and illegal resales of them more difficult. The way things stand, they say, makes it easy for thieves to get away with both crimes and leave their victims on the hook for thousands of dollars.
"Thousands of Minnesotans and people throughout the country are getting ripped off every day and night," Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said during an online press conference Thursday, Feb. 11.
Demand for the precious metals used in the manufacturing of catalytic converters, which help to control the exhaust emissions of automobiles and other gas-powered vehicles, makes them lucrative targets for opportunistic thieves. While a converter torn from the undercarriage of a parked car might only fetch a few hundred dollars at the scrap yard, the palladium and rhodium its made out of currently goes for around $2,300 and $21,000 an ounce, respectively, on the metal market.
Replacing a stolen catalytic converter, on the other hand, can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, according to Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association Executive Director Lance Klatt. And at the moment, Klatt said at a Minnesota House of Representatives committee hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 9., orders for the devices themselves are taking months to be fulfilled.
"The theft of catalytic converters is more problematic than most think," Klatt said.
Legislation introduced in the Minnesota Capitol would make it so that a scrap dealer couldn't buy a catalytic converter without first seeing additional forms of documentation on how it was obtained that aren't presently required by law. A catalytic converter bill in the Senate even goes so far as to make it illegal for anyone other than a licensed scrap dealer to purchase a used catalytic converter at all.
Dealers wouldn't be able to pay for used converters in cash under the Senate bill, either, and would have to instead use checks or electronic payment systems. According to chief author Sen. John Marty, the bill gets at the untraceable nature of converter thefts.
"The goal is to cut off the source," Marty, DFL-Roseville, said at Thursday's press event.
A separate Senate bill that more closely mirrors one in the Minnesota House has also been introduced.
Police officers who have spoken in favor of the legislation said that it targets a crime that is becoming especially common in the Twin Cities and the surrounding suburbs. Kurt Hallstrom, a senior commander in the St. Paul Police Department, said Thursday his colleagues are "very excited about the potential of having this bill as a tool to help us attack this catalytic converter problem."
Rep. Greg Davids, chief author of the House catalytic converter bill, H.F. 330, said he hopes to build support among the scrap and recycling industries for the legislation as well. He noted during Tuesday's committee hearing that while they are already well-regulated in Minnesota, looser rules in Wisconsin make it easy for catalytic converters to be resold across state lines.
"The main point of this for me is not to go after the scrap metal industry," Davids, R-Preston, said.
Under the Senate bill authored by Marty, S.F. 890, anyone who sells or buys a used converter without following the rules it lays out would be guilty of a misdemeanor offense. House committee members amended their version of the bill Tuesday to make violating it a civil penalty, which can incur a heftier fine.