Catalytic converters reduce the amount of toxic pollutants that are released by cars and they’re rife with valuable metals, which — combined with how simple the part is to remove — makes them a prime target for thieves.
Now, a bipartisan bill is looking to address the issue — but not by punishing the thieves. Instead, the legislation would place the onus on car part dealers and scrap shops to identify and report stolen converters.
Speaking at a legislative committee meeting in August, Senator Kathy Bernier, a Republican from Chippewa Falls and one of the bill’s lead sponsors, explained how the rule would work.
“This bill attempts to disincentivize the thefts by regulating the purchase and sale of catalytic converters,” Bernier said. “A scrap dealer must either receive evidence that establishes the seller as the lawful possessor of the catalytic converter or must document the sale and inform law enforcement that the sale occurred.”
Scrappers who violate the rule could face a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 90 days or both. A second offense would warrant a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to nine months or both.
Senator Lena Taylor, a Democrat from Milwaukee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, says that placing the responsibility on the dealers, instead of the thieves, is the best way to address the issue.
“It is another layer of responsibility that we are putting on small businesses to say you won’t accept stolen goods,” she said. “I wish I could do something on the criminal, and know who was going to do it so we can lock them up before they do it. I can’t do that, I’m not psychic yet.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nationwide spike in catalytic converter thefts corresponds with the increasing price of the rare metals used in the car parts. Palladium, rhodium and platinum have all jumped in value since the pandemic began.
In December 2020, the most recent month the NICB has available data for, there were more than 2,300 converter thefts across the country. In December 2019, there were only 578 reported thefts.
Several groups have registered in support of the bill, and no lobbying groups have formally opposed the measure. Among those supporting the legislation is the Wisconsin School Bus Association — the union representing the state’s school bus contractors.
Speaking before lawmakers last month, Cherie Hime, the organization’s executive director, said that school bus fleets were a prime target for catalytic converter thefts.
“It can demolish a whole fleet,” she told lawmakers.
“School Bus fleets are often targets because the school bus yards are an easy target. Thieves will boldly enter and quickly take what they’re seeking without thought to the extensive loss for others. It can be removed within just a few minutes, and then the cost to replace that converter is between $1,200 to $1,800 per bus.”
The bill has the support of lawmakers on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both Democratic Representative Francesca Hong, of Madison, and Republican Representative Janel Brandtjen, of Menomonee Falls, are co-sponsors.
The bill is up for consideration in both chambers of the legislature.
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