ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota House passed a bill Monday afternoon that would crack down on catalytic converter thefts by connecting the dots between the parts and the autos they came from.
Rep. Ruth Richardson's bill, which passed by an overwhelming tally of 113 to 15, would require detached catalytic converters to carry the VIN number — vehicle identification number — of the car where they originated. Police would have the power to seize detached converters that lack those markings.
"Marking this is an important piece, but this also gives important new tools to law enforcement as well, so when they're encountering people with detached converters, they can actually do the work to determine if they have those lawfully," Richard explained during a capitol news conference Monday.
Precious metals in catalytic converters — platinum, palladium, rhodium — are worth far more than gold, which has fueled the meteoric rise in thefts. Minnesota is ranked fifth in the nation in the number of cat converter claims to insurance, and some auto theft prevention organizations rank the state third only behind California and Texas.
West Saint Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon, who appeared with Rep. Richardson at Monday's press conference, said in his small city the increase has been jarring. People with battery-powered electric saws can make quick work of it, often without being noticed until it's too late.
"In 2019 we had zero reported catalytic converter thefts; in 2020 we had 25; 2021 we had 177. In 2022, that trend continued," Chief Sturgeon told reporters.
"It only takes a couple minutes to remove a catalytic converter, but it takes days, sometimes months, to get a replacement for the stolen one. Talk about a burden to those individuals that have their catalytic converters stolen — a few hundred dollars for replacement to thousands of dollars."
The action now moves to the Senate, where a similar bill is moving through the committee process. In the past during GOP control of that chamber, the cat converter bills couldn't gain traction.
Republicans asserted that scrap metal dealers already deal with enough bureaucratic red tape due to reporting requirements lawmakers imposed to crack down on copper piping thieves. An industry lobbyist testified in a recent Senate hearing that the thieves are taking the stolen parts to scrappers outside of Minnesota, so they're predicting these bills will miss the mark.
A Department of Commerce special agent said many of the thieves are trying to raise quick money to feed drug habits, so they're likely to meet with a buyer within Minnesota.
Watch more Minnesota politics:
Watch the latest political coverage from the Land of 10,000 Lakes in our YouTube playlist: