Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Legislative Session 2023: Catalytic Convertor Theft with Senator John Marty (DFL)

Heidi Holtan

Senate File 890 is Legislation to prevent scrap metal dealers from buying catalytic converters from anyone other than an automobile repair shop, auto recycling business, or a vehicle owner that demonstrates proof of ownership.

Today we had a chance to check in with longtime MN DFL Senator John Marty.

DFL have the majority in 2023 in both the executive and legislative branches. This is the first time they have had control since 2014, and has already passed 8 bills into law.

Transcript of conversation, edited for clarity.

Heidi Holtan: It sounds like you had a late night at the Senate?

Senator John Marty: Yes. We didn't finish till after two 30 in the morning on driver's licenses for all. So it was a good, good debate and good finish at two 30 in the morning. But glad to be with you to talk about catalytic converters today.

Heidi: Why is a law dealing with catalytic convertor theft needed?

Senator Marty: This is something I've been hearing for the last three, four years. We came up with this idea. I was working with an auto theft expert, investigative expert, and came up with an idea a couple years ago. Catalytic converters have some rare metals. They're a part of the exhaust system on your car – like the muffler - it is about 12 times as valuable as gold. And it helps clean up the air under your car. And the federal government's required them under the Clean Air Act for years. Every car has them, every combustion car has one and they can be sold for the scrap metal of them is worth like 500 to 800 bucks per converter. So they're easy for a thief to cut off and we've had a surge of them across the state in Minnesota.

Heidi: Tell us about how you think legislation can help this. Does this involve law enforcement or how are you going to combat the theft?

MN Senate Media

Senator Marty: Sure. Law enforcement, prosecutors, insurance industry, everybody's supporting it except the thieves. It's a simple solution, namely that it looks like a smaller muffler, but it looks like a piece of exhaust equipment. And the trouble is there's no way to identify which car it comes from. So if I cut one off under your car, which a thief can do in less than two minutes I can carry it around and say it's mine. And nobody can prove it's not. And so law enforcement has not had probable cause to stop them. They've found cars in Maplewood where they found a car with four or five converters in the back seat, and they know they're stolen, but they can't show anything. So they have to let the guy go and it costs a consumer like two or 3000 bucks to get one replaced.

So what we do is simple. We would require that if you take one off the car, whether your car or somebody else's car, you have to write the vehicle identification number on it. Every car in the world has a 16 digit unique code. Law enforcement around the world can find out whose car it is and everything about it.

And from that, catalytic converter has no markings on it, we require the person taking it off to market on in permanent ink or some other way. Which very few people take off their own cars when they're working on the cars. Occasionally muffler shop comes across one, but mainly they're coming either from car disposal, car junkyards, or they're coming from individuals who are stealing them. And so we'd require marking, making a crime equivalent to theft to have a used one that's not attached to a car without the markings on. And we prohibit it to be sold to anyone other than a registered scrap metal dealer, and then would stop most of the transactions with it. If you can catch the fees at the beginning, they would try in it, and I'm sure they'd try and get them out of state before they're caught. But we think it would be a huge impact in the auto theft. Investigators around the world would say this is a model bill that they would suggest others take up, either it was a Minnesota idea.

Heidi: So is this an issue going on in, in just Minnesota? Is it widespread across the U.S?

Senator Marty: It’s widespread across the US and it's just blossomed. And Minnesota happens to be one of the highest states in it. Much out of proportion to the size of our state. We have a lot more going on, but it's across the country and people have been asking for a solution for years.

I've talked to people just one last Sunday, a couple told me that somebody had snuck into their garage, a locked garage in a senior living condo, and they got into the garage. They got at least two of them off that they were aware of, and they got out of the garage according to the cameras in the garage through the car disappearing three minutes after it came in the garage. And so they got three, two or three converters off in just three minutes. So it's a huge problem around the state. And we've had Rochester school bus company had 40 school buses hit one night. Just a huge hit of expenses. So it's happening across the state.

Heidi: You said that there is a lot of support for this bill. You know, some of the, I'm thinking of the places in northern Minnesota, the scrap metal places. They're small businesses. Are they also in support of this?

Senator Marty: Some of them - there's some dealers who are buying a lot of these things used and not knowingly perhaps, but they're buying stolen property. And under this, they'd be the only ones that registered scrap dealers to be the only ones who could buy them. You can't have somebody going through Facebook marketplace or Craigslist in marketing saying, Hey, we'll show up at the local Walmart parking lot at seven in the morning and buy your converters. They can't do that anymore. It would have to be registered scrap dealers.

Should be a little more business for the scrap dealers. They don't like it that they have to mark them, that they have to record them, and they'd have to turn you in a, they'd have to beginning next year, they'd have to list the vin numbers of the cat converters they pick up, they buy, they'd have to list them immediately in a, in an online database similar to the one, probably the same one that pawn dealers currently have to do when they list property they take in.

Heidi: You said this has been going on for a while. Is this the first time you've proposed this legislation?

Senator Marty: No, unfortunately, I've been pushing roughly the same legislation for three years. We had the Senate Republicans who were in the majority for the last three years refused to give me a hearing. Why they wouldn't tell me just no response, total silence. I asked for it repeatedly year after year. We tried to bring it up on the floor, they ruled it out of order. Tried to take it out of committee, no chance. And, and now when it's passed, the, some of the people who denied me a hearing voted for it in committee. They voted for the bill committee. I think the very few people are going to have the courage to vote against it because it's, it's very popular cross party lines. You talk to anybody who's lost a converter, it can be month of heartache and it can be a $3,000 if you don't have insurance, comprehensive insurance on your car. If you do, it'll cost whatever your deductible is plus hit on your insurance rates.

Heidi: Senator Marty, I know you're busy, but before you go, you've been a leader in the Senate for a long time and you know, we're hearing reports about how fast things are going and things are actually getting done. What's the experience been like for you this session?

Senator Marty: I'm thrilled with it. I've been trying for years to break up this garbage bill. Se this is stuff where we put everything into a handful of bills near the end of session pass them, nobody knows what's in them until after it's done. The constitution doesn't, doesn't allow that. Technically though, the courts haven't stepped in and it's got less transparent and so on. So I'm really thrilled with the progress being made. So it's been a good efficient, transparent process this year and I'm really appreciating that.

And so while I'm at it, I was there. I appreciate KAXE and independent public radio. I've, I've been on your air a number of times over the years. I just appreciate having independent public radio around the state.

Heidi: Well, thank you so much. You know, I'm also curious, because you said that some of the you couldn't even get a hearing in past sessions with Republican control…. But now some Republicans are voting for this bill on catalytic converter theft. Are you seeing bipartisanship?

Senator Marty: <Laugh>? It's been difficult. I think right now I think we have the votes to have it done. It's passed on the house floor. We passed it through three committees in the Senate. Only one of them did anyone vote against it. And it was by party line in that one. But I think in the end, like in the House, there were only like 15 out of 134 people who voted against it.

And it's because I think they realized that it's a huge problem. And again, the experts, insurance experts, auto theft experts, police and so on are all saying this covers all the things you can possibly do in a logical manner and should really have a significant reduction in the problem over the next couple of years as it's faced in and as sleeves and the industry recognizes how it has to work.

Senator John Marty from 2021

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.