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Lawmakers introduce new bills aimed at deterring catalytic converter thefts

One bill would require car dealerships and retailers to mark catalytic converters while the other would require proof of ownership for detached catalytic converters.

STOCKTON, Calif. — It's a familiar crime that takes seconds to commit but leaves victims without a car and out hundreds of dollars in some cases. 

As some police departments in California note an uptick in catalytic converter thefts in recent years, videos showing the at-times brazen thefts have swept the internet and have caught the attention of state lawmakers.

"We've seen this huge spike," said state Senator Tom Umberg (D-Orange County). "The challenge is, because the catalytic converters don't have any individual identification on them, they can be sold and broken down."

Two bills introduced in February, one in the state's Senate, authored by Umberg, and the other in the state Assembly, aim to deter the thefts.

Assembly Bill 2398

State Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) says he was encouraged to make legislation hoping to deter catalytic converter thefts after calls from constituents and after seeing shocking videos of the thefts. 

"These are folks that literally just can't afford it, and they're asking me, you know, 'what are we doing about this?'" Villapudua said. "We don't realize that it can even stop you from working. It can stop you from making that next payment on your home or your apartment."

RELATED: Brazen catalytic converter theft caught on video in Stockton

His bill AB 2398, would make it a crime to possess a catalytic converter that has been detached from a car without documentation.

The bill would require those in possession of a detached catalytic converter to also have a certificate of title for the car it was detached from. 

If they do not have the car's title, those with detached catalytic converters would be required to have written authorization from the person holding the certificate of title or the car's registration, or they would need evidence that the catalytic converter was acquired through a lawful transaction.

"What this will do is basically go after folks, not just the person that's committing the crime, but also the person that's buying from a person that literally took the catalytic converter off a car," Villapudua said.

The bill has several steps before potentially landing on Governor Gavin Newsom's desk. The bill will first go through a committee, a vote in the state Assembly and a vote in the state Senate.

Villapudua says he is welcome to co-authors and edits to the legislation.

"These are policies that we want to make sure that we pass and you know, make our community safer," Villapudua said. "It's not just my bill, it could also be a bill that my colleagues here could join in and it can be their bill too, we're here to work together and get it done."

Senate Bill 986

State Senators Tom Umberg (D-Orange County) and Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) authored Senate Bill 986 (SB-986) and introduced the bill to the state Senate on Feb. 14. 

According to Umberg, the two partnered on the bill after noticing a sharp increase in catalytic converter thefts in Southern California, an area which they partly represent.

"We have seen groups of individuals who have become quite proficient at removing catalytic converters," Umberg said. "So it's been brought to my attention by both my constituents as well as law enforcement that something needed to be done -- that the risk-reward ratio was way out of balance."

RELATED: Suspects caught stealing catalytic converters from cars at Sacramento International Airport

Umberg's solution, SB-986, would require dealers or retailers to mark catalytic converters on new cars with the car's vehicle identification number (VIN). 

The bill also requires the written agreement for the sale of individual catalytic converters to include an updated log or record that describes each catalytic converter. 

"Even if a police officer, for example, pulls over a vehicle or pickup with 10 catalytic converters in the back, there's no way to identify where they came from," Umberg said. "The purpose of the bill is to change that scenario, so that the dealer has to just etch a unique number - the VIN number - on the catalytic converter so we know where the converter comes from."

Although Senators Umberg and Portantino introduced and read the bill in the state Senate, lawmakers must still vote on SB-986 before the bill goes to the state Assembly and potentially lands on Governor Newsom's desk.

"I am optimistic that it will pass both the Senate as well as the Assembly and get to the Governor," Umberg said. "I think the Governor recognizes that this is a crime where we're seeing dramatic increases and that this is sort of a common-sense way to deter it."

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