By Senator Lena C. Taylor
I have often lamented the fact, that so few constituents raise awareness about the everyday issues that negatively impact their lives. Of course, we can’t, nor should we be expected to, have a response for every life circumstance. Yet, I often recommend that residents land on the side of speaking up. You never know who is listening or how they can be of help. It is that sentiment that drove the introduction and recent public hearing on Senate Bill 408 (SB 408). Drafted in response to the overwhelming frustrations over increased thefts of catalytic converters, SB 408 seeks to reign in and regulate scrap dealer purchases of catalytic converters. Both Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), the bill’s author and I wanted to see a change. However, the story started long before last week.
In March of 2021, my neighborhood app started receiving increased posts about stolen cars. More specifically, residents had their catalytic converters stolen from underneath their car. It was with desperate dismay that some recounted having their stolen catalytic converters replaced, only to have them stolen again a few weeks later. Until folks began reaching out on the issue, I never fully appreciated why anyone would steal a catalytic converter and how they were selling them to scrap dealers without identification.
To get clarity on the issue, I reached out to Wisconsin’s Legislative Reference Bureau. I made a simple request for information about Wisconsin state law regarding ID requirements to sell catalytic converters. The answer was not so easy. I learned that presently, it is not clear how catalytic converters fit into existing state law about the purchase and sale of scrap metal because the law separates metallic scrap into a number of categories.
In short, we needed to change or clarify the law. Milwaukee does require scrap yards to check IDs and keep records of whose selling converters. However, we found that many Wisconsin cities and neighboring states may not have similar laws. Many converters are sold across state lines. This isn’t just a Wisconsin problem, it’s a national problem. But why, what makes catalytic converters such a big deal?
Converters contain precious metals that are in high demand. A precious metal like gold is selling for about $1,800 an ounce, according to current market data. Before you ask, gold is not found in catalytic converters. However, Palladium, which is in these converters, sells for more than $2,300 per ounce. So is Rhodium, which sells for more than $21,000 per ounce. Sellers, on average, are getting a few hundred dollars per converter. But those numbers can quickly add up. In neighboring Illinois, 14,000 converters were stolen last year. At $200 a converter, that totals nearly $3 million dollars, in money made from these thefts! In the meantime, consumers or victims of these crimes can spend, on average $2000 to replace these converters. In some cases, insurance may not cover these repairs. It is imperative that we do everything we can to address this issue.