The bill would make it illegal to tamper with identifying numbers on devices.
Cell phone theft is an increasing problem in Ohio and around the nation. Sen. Sherrod Brown says it's one reason he's help craft a bill that he says will make the phones worthless to thieves.
As of last year, about 87 percent of Americans own a cell phone - about 45 percent are smart phones, according to the Pew Research Center. A stolen iPhone can cost more than $800 to replace.
"25 percent of thefts that are taking place involved cell phones," Brown said.
Cell phones, mainly smart phones, are a favorite of thieves because they can be easily resold on the black market. Brown says thieves will steal the phones and then alter the unique number in the phone known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity. It's similar to a VIN number on a vehicle. The Federal Communications Commission has a database of the numbers that allow stolen cell phones to be deactivated, but some criminals have found ways to get around that.
The Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2013 would impose criminal penalties of up to five years for criminals who tamper with cell phones IMEIs in order to circumvent the database. The bill would provide exceptions for legal alterations made to repair or refurbish phones or to protect the privacy and security of the end user.
Don Leonard was riding on a COTA bus near the OSU campus when a man tried to take his cell phone as he was using it. The theft was unsuccessful, but Leonard thinks it might not have even happened if Brown's bill had been in place.
"Make the damn thing useless and, even if it takes five years to get everybody up to speed, eventually, they'll stop trying to steal it," he said.
Corbin Willis, a recent graduate of OSU, says his iPhone was stolen near campus. He tracked it through a GPS program but wasn't able to get it back.
"At least I could have taken solace in the fact knowing that no one else would have been able to use my phone and it would have been illegal for them to actually have it in their hands," he said.
The bill has the full support of CTIA, the Wireless Association, which joined forces with the FCC to implement the national database.