Minnesota Senate debates bill to slow wave of catalytic converter theft

Debate over a bill to crack down on the theft of catalytic converters intensified on the floor of the Minnesota Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers focused on potential criminal penalties for scrap recyclers who buy the stolen parts.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, argued in favor of the bill, which the Minnesota House of Representatives passed last week.

“I want people to keep in mind how serious the problem is,” Marty said. “Theft doesn’t occur if there’s no one willing to buy the stolen property.”

The legislation would require detached catalytic converters to be marked with vehicle identification numbers and would require scrap yards to report all purchases to an online database.

As 5 INVESTIGATES reported, research by a national nonprofit group found Minnesota law currently “exacerbates” catalytic converter theft because it does not require scrap yards to document certain transactions.

RELATED: Scrapped: New calls to close loopholes ‘exacerbating’ catalytic converter theft in Minnesota

Those caught with unmarked parts would face criminal penalties from a misdemeanor up to a felony under the proposed legislation.

Scrap yards and their employees could also be criminally charged if they buy detached catalytic converters without the proper documentation.

That provision in the legislation prompted pushback from some Republican lawmakers who warned that smaller part-time scrap dealers could be unfairly punished for “mistakes.”

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, argued the law would not stop thieves from taking stolen catalytic converters out of state.

“Let’s wake up, folks. You think they can’t get to Sioux Falls, to Des Moines Iowa or to Wisconsin?” Dahms said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who can’t read a road map and figure out how to get there.”

Previous efforts to increase regulation of scrap yards faced opposition as well.

Lawmakers repealed part of a law in 2015 that would have required scrap dealers to report every transaction — from the purchase of entire vehicles to their individual parts — to a new state database.

In committee hearings last month, Sen. Marty revived the idea, citing 5 INVESTIGATES reporting.

RELATED: Minnesota anticipated current wave of auto thefts. Then lawmakers scrapped a tool to fight it.

“If a scrap dealer gets one of these scrapped automobiles, they would have to report the VIN number and send that into the database so that people can know right away,” he said.

The version of the legislation passed by the Minnesota House last week would require scrap yards to report only the purchase of catalytic converters to an online database.

The Senate tabled the bill Wednesday before it could go to a full vote.