Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Wilson’s subscribers Feb. 17, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Wilson’s e-newsletters, click here.
Bill fails to make cut at Legislature’s first deadline — doesn’t even get a hearing
An all-too-common scene as catalytic converter theft becomes commonplace statewide./ Credit Creative Commons 2.0
Catalytic converter theft is exploding statewide, and it remains a top concern for the people of Washington — but you wouldn’t know it by watching our state Legislature.
Olympia appears to have forgotten all about it. A year after we celebrated the passage of a bill we called a good first step, today I regret to report the death of a bill I introduced as a follow-up. We won’t be enacting tough new penalties against thieves and ringleaders, or enacting sensible restrictions on scrapyard sales.
Why the fizzle? It’s part of a bigger blowup over the Legislature’s approach to law enforcement and criminal justice. We’re about to see a major showdown over a bill dealing with police pursuits, and trust me, it’s all related. I’ll tell you the story in this update from Olympia. I hope you’ll let me know what you think about this issue and others – you can use the contact information below. As always, my most important job is to serve you.
Sen. Jeff Wilson, 19th Legislative District
Tow-truck bill survives cutoff, advances in Legislature
Five measures survive Legislature’s first deadline for passage of bills
Today was deadline day for many bills in the Legislature, the first of several cutoffs designed to speed us to our scheduled adjournment on April 23. Friday was the deadline for policy committees that pass bills that will receive further consideration. Five bills I introduced are advancing.
Roadside safety in emergency zones – Senate Bill 5023 – This bill would allow tow-truck operators to use rear-facing blue flashers when they reach an emergency zone. This adds to the red flashers they are already permitted, and should increase the visibility of tow truck operators providing urgent assistance along our state’s highways and freeways. I have dubbed this the Arthur Anderson and Raymond Mitchell Tow Operators Safety Act, after two operators struck and killed along I-5 near Longview in 2021.
Wind turbine blade recycling – SB 5287 – This bill launches a WSU feasibility study about the recycling of wind-turbine blades. If green energy is going to be truly green, we need to be good stewards from start to finish. What we do with those wind-turbine blades remains a tough environmental question.
Making “the Evergreen State” our nickname – SB 5595 – We’ve been calling ourselves “the Evergreen State” since the 1890s, and it’s about time we made it official.
Combatting destruction of electric-vehicle charging equipment – SB 5542 – This bill puts EV charging equipment in the same category as other commercial metal property, requiring scrap metal businesses to follow state rules designed to combat theft.
Short-line railroad infrastructure – SB 5494 – this bill provides tax exemptions and credits for the short-line railroads that serve many of our small towns and local businesses in Washington state. These short-line railroads operate 1400 miles of track statewide, and often are vital to community interests, but they do not have the resources of our larger regional railroads. This bill will ease the burden of maintenance, repair and improvement.
Whatever happened to the catalytic converter bill?
Bill dies in committee, overshadowed by larger debate over police pursuit, law enforcement
Last year our state earned a dubious honor. A national statistical-analysis firm, BeenVerified.com, declared that Washington saw the greatest increase of any state in catalytic converter theft – a 10,000 percent increase since 2019, when high recycling prices caused thefts to explode nationwide. Washington saw 12,000 converters sliced from tailpipes in 2021. When the 2022 figures are in, we might even rank Number One.
So why aren’t we making it a priority this year? Why aren’t we enacting tough new laws to combat organized theft? Chalk it up to legislative politics, and the ongoing reluctance of my urban colleagues to do anything that would send more people to prison.
Last year I was the first to introduce a bill dealing with catalytic converter theft, and many of my ideas were incorporated in the final bill, HB 1815. This bill enacted tough new rules for scrap dealers who purchase catalytic converters for recycling, requiring them to check ID, keep good records, and preventing cash payment on the spot. These rules are intended to prevent stolen catalytic converters from entering the legal supply chain.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go directly after the people directly responsible – the people who lop the converters from your tailpipes, and who coordinate the theft rings police say are operating statewide. Our Democratic colleagues hold the majorities in the state House and Senate, and as a matter of policy they told us no bill creating a new felony would be allowed to pass. I tried again this year with SB 5740, and my bill didn’t even get a hearing.
Seeking money in the budget
Don’t think I’m giving up. We can still do more this year. Last year’s legislation was supposed to provide $4 million for new programs to combat catalytic converter theft. Although this money was provided in the budget, it was diverted to other purposes. This year I am seeking a new budget proviso with tighter language. It will provide money for police training, police sting operations, a no-buy database, and development of a comprehensive law enforcement strategy to combat metal theft.
Meanwhile, there is a push in the House to add a $7 million program in the budget to etch identification numbers on catalytic converters. This was the main recommendation of a task force created by our legislation last year, when it couldn’t reach agreement on criminal penalties. I suppose this might allow us to track crime, but wouldn’t do much to stop it.
Showdown coming instead on police pursuit – same basic issue
The biggest reason we aren’t talking about catalytic converters this year is that it has been overshadowed by an even bigger issue, police-pursuit legislation. This issue poses the same question in a different form – is Washington interested in effective law enforcement?
Two years ago, our colleagues enacted a bill to restrict police pursuits, part of an anti-police package in the wake of the George Floyd riots that limited police weapons and tactics and exposed police to prosecution. Many of the worst rules have been rolled back, but our colleagues are fighting a last-ditch stand to keep their pursuit restrictions in place. Meanwhile, car theft is up 50 percent statewide. Crimes justifying pursuit under the old law have tripled – criminals know the cops can’t give chase, and they are getting away.
The same deadline that killed my catalytic converter bill also killed a bill that would have restored police pursuits. We expect a showdown on this issue in the Senate on this issue later this session, perhaps a vote to overrule a committee chair. On that one, too, you can count on me to vote for effective law enforcement.
Telephone: (360) 786-7636
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