The General Assembly passed legislation on Saturday to make it a felony to steal a catalytic converter, sending the bills for Governor Glenn Youngkin’s approval. The emissions devices have precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium, and the value per ounce has gone up in recent years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which reported in March 2021 that recyclers pay around $50 to $250 for a catalytic converter.
“As many of you are probably experiencing in your districts, we have a rash of catalytic converter larcenies in central Virginia,” HB 740 sponsor Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) said in the House of Delegates on February 10.
In Richmond in November, police reported over 400 catalytic converter thefts; thieves often targeted multiple cars in a parking lot and used electric saws to quickly remove the devices, police told NBC12. Virginia code makes it a class one misdemeanor to willfully break, injure, tamper with, or remove parts of a vehicle without the owner’s consent. HB 740 and State Senator Frank Ruff’s (R-Mecklenberg) identical SB 729 will make breaking, injuring, tampering with, or removing a catalytic converter a class six felony.
The House and the Senate initially disagreed over the extent of the legislation. A House proposal would have included the class six felony, and would have made it a class six felony to cause $1,000 worth of damage to vehicles. A Senate proposal would have made it a class one misdemeanor to aid someone else in the theft, if the value of the converter is less than $1,000, placing it under a code section that already makes it a class six felony to cause $1,000 of injury to property.
On Saturday in the Senate, State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) summarized, “The House basically wanted to make everything a felony, and we wanted to basically create a way to have people that conspire to be charged with a misdemeanor offense.”
“The compromise we reached here says that if you tamper with a catalytic converter under the tampering law, that that would be a class six felony, and then we have language in there similar to pawnshop language that the parts suppliers have to keep the records so you can see where these things came from,” he said.
Surovell said, “I’ve been getting, actually, messages this morning in my own district about Prius catalytic converter thefts going on all over, so this is a real problem. And we needed to come up with a solution, because when one of these is stolen, it costs about $4,000 to get the car fixed, but the part itself isn’t worth $1,000.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Rob Bell” by Charlottesville Lawyers and photo “Catalytic Converter” by Seth Sawyers CC BY 2.0.