LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Personal stories of money lost and trouble caused by rampant catalytic converter thefts came with overwhelming support Thursday for a proposal that would give police the power to stop criminals who are caught with the devices.
Senate Bill 243 (SB243) has been modified by an amendment since it was first introduced two weeks ago, simplifying the tiers of offenses and better defining how possession of two or more catalytic converters can lead to an arrest.
And while legal points brought some lengthy discussion, Republicans and Democrats seemed united in their support for SB243.
Between 2019 and 2022, catalytic converter thefts increased 1,200% in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s jurisdiction, according to Chris Reis, who represented Metro in the presentation of the bill. That’s three times higher than the 400% increase in the national average reported by State Farm Insurance over the same time.
But there was some lighthearted banter to go with the very serious statistics.
“Nonprofit organizations, rental car companies, yes, law enforcement agencies and even the beloved Oscar Meyer Wienermobile have been victims of the crime,” Reis said.
“We cannot have the Wienermobile out of service,” Democratic Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop said. She represents a large section of the west valley.
Senator Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) was credited with coming up with a bill that was described by some lobbyists as one of the best proposals in the nation to tackle the problem.
Numerous stories told how widespread the problem has become, but Nguyen’s anecdote may have said it best: if a police officer today arrested someone with a shopping cart full of stolen catalytic converters, they would have a better success charging the person for stealing the shopping cart.
SB243 strictly defines who can buy the devices — essentially killing the legal ways that thieves have been able to profit. While Nguyen reported estimated value of a single catalytic converter at $500 to $750, the actual cost of repairs is more often $5,000-$6,000, according to Andrew MacKay, executive director of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association.
Senator Jeff Stone (R-Clark County) said the various metals — palladium, rhodium and platinum — inside one catalytic converter are worth about $1,600.
Only licensed auto wreckers, licensed scrap metal processors, and licensed motor vehicle manufacturers, distributors, dealers or rebuilders are specifically allowed to buy catalytic converters. The bill contains a provision for other businesses that may reasonably generate, possess or sell used catalytic converters.
If the bill is controversial at all, it’s because it sets possession of two or more catalytic converters as a felony unless the person can provide certain documentation that proves they are the lawful owner.
To Democratic Senator Dallas Harris — a lawyer by trade — that’s a slippery slope. It puts the burden of proof on the person who is being arrested. “In the same way it’s difficult to prove the crime, it’s equally difficult to prove you didn’t commit it,” Harris said.
“These additional requirements are important for stopping the thefts,” Warren Hardy said, representing SA Recycling and other organizations.
“I am unaware of any reputable scrap metal organization that will buy a catalytic converter. It is a zero-tolerance from our company if you accept a catalytic converter in our company you will be fired,” Hardy said.
“The challenge that we have … is if you cut off the benefit of it, if you cut off the payday, it’ll stop. The reason it hasn’t stopped in Nevada … these are not being sold in Nevada. They are being sold into California, where surprisingly the rules are lax,” he said.