RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Virginia lawmakers are cracking down on catalytic converter thefts.

Starting July 1, criminals could face a stiffer punishment if Governor Glenn Youngkin signs the bill into law. 

Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) said police and constituents asked for the bill, which he introduced in the House of Delegates. It passed on Saturday, the final day of the regular session, after closed-door negotiations.

The parts, which help control car emissions, has been the target of an increasing number of thefts as the price of the precious metals they contain increases. 

Right now, stealing a catalytic converter in Virginia is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in jail. Bell’s bill makes it a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. 

“It increases the attention that law enforcement can devote to it. It makes it easier to prosecute related crimes like for the look out or the person that helps,” Bell said. “The damage to the vehicle being caused by someone who steals them exceeds significantly the value of what they’re getting and so we want the law to reflect that amount of damage.” 

Bell said scrap metal buyers, who can sell converters to recycling facilities to reclaim the metals inside, will also be required to keep records longer under the bill. He said they will have to retain ID and vehicle license information for two years after the part changes hands. Currently, he said that information can legally be tossed after 30 days, making it difficult for police to track down criminals. 

Roger Wilder, owner of Wilder’s Tire and Auto Repair in Henrico, hopes the law is enforced to the fullest extent. 

“There has to be some kind of accountability,” Wilder said. “There needs to be a consequence and if people know there is a consequence they won’t steal.”

Wilder said fifteen catalytic converters have been stolen off of his lot in three separate burglaries over six months. He said replacing those parts, which were cut from his customer’s exhaust systems, has cost him about six thousand dollars so far. 

 “While you’re fixing things that have been stolen, you’re losing money on things you could make money on for the repairs on other people’s cars and it also backs you up to where you can’t get to new work,” Wilder said. 

Meanwhile, Wilder said it’s getting harder for body shops like his to get catalytic converters for repairs.

“The expense of it has gotten a lot bigger since people have been stealing them because it’s a bigger market for them now,” Wilder said. 

If Governor Youngkin signs the bill, the harsher penalty will take effect on July 1 and will only apply to charges brought on or after that date, according to Bell.