Gov. Tim Walz has signed a bill into law that seeks to prevent catalytic converter thefts in Minnesota, allowing only registered scrap metal dealers to purchase the auto part while increasing penalties for people who illegally possess and sell them.

The new law, which Walz signed Thursday, will take effect Aug. 1. Once it's in place, detached catalytic converters must be marked with the vehicle identification number of the car it originated from and the date it was removed, a change that will help law enforcement determine if the auto part was purchased legally.

"Too many Minnesotans have stories about the danger and financial consequences of having their catalytic converter stolen. This legislation will help protect Minnesotans' property and bring peace of mind," Walz said in a statement. "Those who commit these brazen crimes should know that there will be accountability."

The bill won bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed here over the past few years, with insurance industry groups ranking Minnesota as one of the states with the most thefts. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost a couple thousand dollars.

The law will make it illegal to possess an unlabeled detached catalytic converter. Converters may be marked through engraving or with a permanent marker.

Those caught possessing or purchasing a used, unmarked catalytic converter would be charged with a misdemeanor. It would be a gross misdemeanor to possess or buy two unmarked converters, and a felony for three or more.

Scrap metal dealers who buy used catalytic converters must enter the vehicle identification number marked on the part into a new electronic database meant to help authorities track the parts.

"After years of inaction, we have finally taken an important step in protecting Minnesotans. This legislation will crack down on the black market that deals in stolen catalytic converters, and gives law enforcement tools they need to stop bad actors," said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Members of Congress are attempting to address the problem at the federal level. Minnesota's Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Democratic U.S. Reps. Angie Craig and Betty McCollum are co-sponsoring legislation to make catalytic converter theft a specifically codified federal crime. Their bill would also require new cars to have vehicle identification numbers stamped onto their catalytic converters for law enforcement tracing purposes.

"By making catalytic converter theft a criminal offense and ensuring each converter can be easily tracked, our bipartisan legislation would provide law enforcement officers with the tools and resources they need to crack down on these crimes," Klobuchar said in a statement last month.