A bill aimed at greatly reducing the number of catalytic converter thefts in California was approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee on Tuesday, moving it to a crucial Assembly Public Safety Committee vote.
Assembly Bill 2682, authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), would prohibit all vehicle dealers and retail sellers from selling vehicles equipped with a catalytic converter unless the converter has been engraved or permanently marked with the vehicle identification number (VIN). Besides a few exempted parties, AB 2682 would also prohibit removing, changing, or obscuring the VIN on a converter. For the former offense, the punishment would be an infraction. For the latter offense, it would be a misdemeanor.
Auto mechanics and others who repair vehicles that install or replace converters would also be held responsible for the right VIN of the car being the same on the converter via engraving or marking. Those at smog check stations are also required to check the inside of catalytic converters and let customers know if the VIN is on the converters. A violation of either of these two provisions would also be a misdemeanor.
Catalytic converters, which are specialized exhaust emission control devices found underneath vehicles, are typically stolen for the rare metals inside, and can go for between $50 to $250 when sold to metal recyclers. Hybrid car converters, which contain more rare metals, can go for even more, with some bringing in $1,500 each. Meanwhile, people that have had them stolen have to pay up to $4,000 for a replacement converter, causing many a great financial burden.
California currently leads the nation in catalytic converter thefts, with some insurance companies estimating that over 30% of all cases nationwide come from California. Nationwide, thefts have skyrocketed in the past few years, with the National Insurance Crime Bureau finding that thefts have gone up from 1,298 reported in 2018, 3,389 in 2019, to an all-time high of 14,433 in 2020.
Assemblyman Gray wrote the bill to reduce the number of catalytic converter thefts and to add a way to help track down who stole and sold stolen catalytic converters.
“Nearly a dozen bills have been introduced in the Legislature this year to address catalytic converter theft,” said Gray in a press release on Tuesday. “AB 2682 is one of the few with bipartisan support.”
“Five years ago, an ounce of rhodium cost $850 but now sells for more than $18,000. Surging values for precious metals have driven up the incidence of catalytic convert theft by more than 1000%. And it could get worse. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to drive even higher prices for these precious metals with Russia producing almost 40% of the world’s mined palladium.”
“Once a thief gets away with your catalytic converter, there is often little law enforcement can do to prove a suspect committed the theft. By requiring these parts to be marked, a detached catalytic converter can be traced back to its original vehicle and legal ownership can be established. If the marking on the catalytic converter is removed, then possession of that catalytic converter is a crime – which will serve as a significant deterrent for any black market repair shop or recycler to take possession of the stolen part.”
AB 2682 one of several catalytic converter theft bills in the legislature this session
Supporters of the bill, which include the California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and AAA, all noted that AB 2682 has been needed for quite some time now.
“This has become more and more of a reported crime,” said one anonymous Central Valley police officer to the Globe on Wednesday. “If those guys up in Sacramento can get some law out that can help deter them, or can lead to some arrests, then it’s a good thing. Anything for crime prevention and justice.”
There has been little to no opposition against AB 2682, with both Democrats and Republicans supporting and voting for the bill. However, the focus on AB 2682 has led to similar bills to be voted against in recent days, most notably SB 919, a bill by Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee).
“Our comprehensive approach to deter, track, and prosecute catalytic converter theft unfortunately was not approved by the Public Safety Committee,” Senator Jones said shortly after the passage of AB 2682 and defeat of SB 919 on Wednesday morning. “However, I am pleased that our bill did continue the discussion in the Legislature about catalytic converter theft and led to other measures being introduced and considered. I will review some of the many other less comprehensive measures that are currently still moving through the legislative process and see if any are worth supporting. I am not done working to curb this problem.”
AB 2682 supporters, as well as others close to the bills, pointed out the graciousness of other lawmakers in their bills being defeated.
“Everyone wanted their bill to be passed specifically of course, but everyone is just happy that this is finally happening, no matter whose bill this is,” explained “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer in Sacramento on Wednesday. “You can expect them to release statements saying how they had pushed for legislation on it earlier in statements once the vote gets to them. They want this to happen, but they’d also like a little credit in helping bring it up.”
AB 2682 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee soon, with a vote in the Assembly itself being projected for around mid-May.
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