Senate OK’s crackdown on catalytic converter theft, Wilson leads fight

Wilson, sponsor of original bill, plays key role in compromise

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate Friday approved a bill to crack down on catalytic converter theft, with tough provisions advocated by Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

House Bill 1815 passed the Senate 48-0 and now returns to the House for concurrence on amendments.

The much-worked bill was amended on the Senate floor to take the form of a bill introduced by Wilson at the start of the session. The bill aims to combat the fast-rising crime of catalytic converter theft by placing new requirements on the scrap yards and auto wreckers that purchase them for recycling, and by launching a grant program for local law enforcement sting operations.

“We’re finally standing up to the thugs who crawl under our cars with Sawzalls and lop the converters off our tailpipes, crippling vehicles and doing extensive damage,” Wilson said. “The victims of these crimes are finally being heard. We’re not going to eliminate catalytic converter theft, but we’re certainly making it harder to make any money at it.”

The bill is prompted by a wave of catalytic converter thefts over the last two years, as precious metal prices have peaked and used converters command high prices for recycling. Thousands of catalytic converters have been stolen in Washington state alone, and other states, including Oregon, have already enacted tough new statutes.

Wilson’s proposal, introduced as SB 5495, has proven one of the most-amended measures of the 2022 legislative session, prompting heavy lobbying efforts from affected industries and negotiation with majority Democrats.

Early versions of the proposal created new crimes of unlawful possession and attempted unlawful sale of a catalytic converter, and made the latter a felony. Those provisions were stripped in the version that passed the Senate Friday.

“I wish the bill had more teeth,” Wilson said. “There was a reluctance among some of my colleagues this year to create new crimes. I’m sure this will be one of the hot topics for the task force, and the Legislature will be reconsidering this issue next year.

“The important thing is getting the bill passed this year. Some wanted a delay, but that would have meant thousands more catalytic converters would be stolen in the meantime. This is happening right now. A couple of weeks ago, someone parked a car across the street from my house, and within a couple of days it was up on blocks with the catalytic converter lopped off. It was as if someone was trying to send me a signal – don’t give up on the bill.”

After amendments on the Senate floor, HB 1815 contains the following major provisions:

  • Washington State University would convene a catalytic converter workgroup to make recommendations to reduce catalytic converter theft, including changes to state law. Members would include representatives of police, prosecutors, courts, affected industries, insurers and crime victims. A final report would be due Jan. 1, 2023.
  • New requirements would be placed on scrap metal businesses that purchase used catalytic converters. Individual sellers would have to document they own the vehicles from which catalytic converters are removed, and purchases would be prohibited if sellers fail to produce a valid driver’s license or government photo ID card.
  • Cash payments on the spot would be prohibited, and payments would have to be made by check after three days.
  • Auto wreckers purchasing catalytic converters for resale to scrap yards would be subject to similar purchasing requirements.
  • Violations of the purchasing rules would be a gross misdemeanor, with a fine of $1,000 per catalytic converter.
  • The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs would develop a comprehensive law enforcement strategy, training courses and a grant program for local law enforcement agencies in high-crime areas. Money would be used to fund police sting operations and other efforts.
  • Persons who attempt to buy or sell stolen catalytic converters would be added to the state’s “no-buy” database.
  • The bill declares an emergency and takes effect immediately upon signature by the governor.