Catalytic converter crackdown OK’d by Senate committee, advancing Wilson proposal

House bill is amended to keep tough Wilson proposal alive

OLYMPIA – A bill cracking down on catalytic converter theft cleared the Senate Law and Justice Committee, as lawmakers amended a House bill to reflect the tough approach advocated by Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

House Bill 1815 was approved 9-0 by the Senate committee, and now moves on to the Senate Transportation Committee for further consideration.

Wilson introduced legislation to combat catalytic converter theft before the 2022 session started (SB 5495), and said the current version of the bill reflects months of work and negotiation with all parties involved. The bill creates a new felony for the attempted sale of a stolen catalytic converter, prohibits recyclers from making cash payments on the spot, and launches a grant program for local law enforcement agencies to fund police sting operations.

“We’ve been working this issue for months, and we finally have agreement on tough legislation to deter catalytic converter theft,” Wilson said. “We’ve worked with police and prosecutors, and with some changes in the latest version, we’ve also addressed the needs of the auto wreckers. The scrap-metal recycling industry played an important role in reaching this agreement, and I am especially appreciative of the work they have done in reaching terms acceptable to all.

“We all recognize we need to address this problem head-on. By enacting tough new laws, we give thieves reason to think twice before they crawl under your car with a Sawzall.”

The legislation is prompted by a nationwide catalytic converter theft spree that began when precious metals prices skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021. Recyclers are now paying high prices for used catalytic converters, which contain palladium and rhodium, creating a bounty for thieves nationwide. Thousands have been stolen in Washington alone, often doing damage to vehicle emissions systems that costs thousands of dollars to repair.

Major provisions of the bill are:

  • The Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee would convene a task force to consider further measures to combat catalytic converter theft, with a final report due Jan. 1, 2023.
  • Scrap yards that purchase catalytic converters would be required to verify ownership, keep records of every purchase and obtain copies of sellers’ driver’s licenses or government-issued photo ID.
  • Cash payments for non-ferrous metal purchases are limited to $30, with the remainder paid by check, and imposes a 3-day waiting period before payment can be made for a used catalytic converter.
  • Persons who have attempted to sell a stolen catalytic converter would be added to the state’s “no-buy” database.
  • The Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs would develop a comprehensive law-enforcement strategy, and would administer a grant program to local agencies for sting operations and other law enforcement action.
  • Violations of purchasing rules would become a cause of action under the state Consumer Protection Act, punishable by a fine of $1,000 per catalytic converter.
  • Unlawful possession of a catalytic converter would become a gross misdemeanor, punishable by jail time and a fine of $2,000 per catalytic converter.
  • Attempting the unlawful sale of a catalytic converter would become a Class C felony, punishable by jail time and a fine of $5,000 for each catalytic converter.
  • Licensed auto wreckers and other commercial businesses would be exempted from possible felony penalties.

The original version of HB 1815, sponsored by Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, took a softer approach, launching a state program to mark privately-owned catalytic converters so that ownership could be traced after a theft has occurred.

“I think the Legislature has come to realize that we need to do something to discourage the crime in the first place,” Wilson said. “We’ve been working on this issue all session, and the result is legislation we can be proud of.”