California bill that would penalize possession of detached catalytic converters faces opposition

Source: KCRA 3

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

A bill that would make possession of a detached catalytic converter a crime and punishable with jail time faced stiff opposition on California's Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Assm. Carlos Villapudua, D Stockton, vied for his bill in front of the Assembly committee, where he spoke about the importance of implementing a bill that cracks down on thefts, so his constituents can feel some relief.

"They live paycheck to paycheck in my district and when they get their catalytic converters stolen, they're almost homeless. That catalytic converter is almost worth more than their car," Villapudua told committee members.

KCRA 3 Investigation uncovered thefts of catalytic converters rose 1,500% in Sacramento County alone over the past few years, with thieves cashing in big on the precious metals located inside the converters.

If Assembly Bill 2398 were signed into law as written, according to the bill's text, it would:

  • Make possession of a detached catalytic converter a wobbler, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or in the county jail for 16 months, or two, or three years.

The offense would not apply to a person who can prove the detached catalytic converter belongs to them by demonstrating one of the following:

  • A certificate of title or certificate of registration showing the person's interest in the vehicle from which the catalytic converter was detached that matches the vehicle identification number permanently marked on the catalytic converter.
  • Written authorization, including the vehicle identification number, from the person or entity that holds the certificate of title or certificate of registration of the vehicle from which the catalytic converter was detached, possessed without the intent to deceive so long as the matching vehicle identification number is permanently marked on the catalytic converter.
  • Evidence that the catalytic converter was most recently acquired in a lawful transaction pertaining to a core recycler, as specified.

The bill highlights exemptions, including, but not limited to, ones for automobile manufacturers, and various auto shops and distributors.

Even with the exemptions, not everyone is on board.

Margo George with the California Public Defenders Association testified that the bill does not deter crime, rather it "tries to return us to the bad old days of every offense is a felony."

"Even more (inaudible) is AB 2398's method, which is basically to create almost a strict liability offense," George said. "If you have a catalytic converter it's not that you're innocent until proven guilty, you're guilty until proven innocent."

KCRA 3 Investigates spoke with Villapudua after the hearing, asking him about the pushback the bill's received.

"I took those concerns and I'm happy to work with my colleagues on this," Villapudua said. "But we have to do something today. We have to do something immediately. It's a tsunami in our community right now. You see it all over social media. My community is asking me what I am going to do, what are we trying to do. As a lawmaker, I'm trying to make our communities much safer and prevent this from happening."

AB 2398 was voted down and kept in committee to see if members and Villapudua can work together on tweaking the bill, which is something both sides said they were receptive to doing.

"This has been a tsunami in my district. We need to figure out a fix. If it's even like a fix-it-ticket, where we can fix it and show proof later, I'll be willing to take that right now. I'll be willing to take anything because it has to happen. We need to be at the table. I'm happy to work with my colleagues on that bill," Villapudua said.

After amending the bill it would be reconsidered.