Bipartisan Legislation Addressing Vehicle Theft Advances

Four bills seeking to deter vehicle theft and establish tough new penalties were advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday. The bills aim to make progress in combating car thefts throughout New Jersey with measures that would make the possession and distribution of certain auto theft tools a crime and increase penalties to crack down on car theft rings.

Assembly Democrats advanced the bills following discussions with Republican legislators about car thefts—including numerous bills sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans—and pledged to continue studying the issue and developing smart, commonsense approaches to the problem in a bipartisan manner in the coming months.

The legislation voted out of committee today builds off earlier actions announced by Governor Murphy and legislative leaders as part of a comprehensive strategy to respond to car theft with best practices supported by a wide range of partners, from law enforcement to local mayors.

Currently, car theft falls under New Jersey’s general theft statute. One bill (A-4931) would establish theft of a car as a separate offense. The bill also makes receiving a stolen car its own separate offense and extends sentences for persistent offenders. Another bill (A-3666) increases the fines and the period of suspension of driving privileges for carjacking and car theft.

Helping to deter future crimes from taking place, an additional bill (A-4930) would expand criminal penalties related to the use of a motor vehicle master key, which is designed to unlock and start the ignition on multiple vehicles, to include new technologies used to steal cars with keyless entry systems.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, our State has seen the most significant increase in auto thefts to date,” said Assemblyman Christopher Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic), lead sponsor of A-3666, A-4930, and A-4931. “New Jersey residents deserve immediate protection and the bill package advancing today will strengthen our laws and keep our neighborhoods safe.”

As the theft of catalytic converters continues to rise, legislation (A-2210) sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald would require owners of scrap metal businesses to retain certain information from individuals selling used catalytic converters not attached to a motor vehicle, making the resale of the highly-targeted part more difficult in order to deter crime.

“By creating barriers that make it more difficult for individuals to profit from their crimes, we are taking a proactive approach to addressing car theft in New Jersey,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “This has become a real problem in many communities throughout the State. New Jersey residents deserve to feel safe and secure.”

The committee also received testimony from invited guests regarding possible causes for the increase in vehicle thefts along with measures being taken to address the issue.

“Today’s hearing yielded productive conversations on what has been done and what is still left to do when it comes to combatting car theft in New Jersey. Paired with the legislation advanced by the committee today, we continue our commitment to increase public safety in communities throughout our State,” said Assemblyman Bill Spearman, Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. “Uplifting the health, safety, and welfare of New Jerseyans must remain our top priority.”

Additional legislation is expected to come in response to the hearing and continuing discussions lawmakers are having with law enforcement and local leaders.

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