Wilson bill to combat catalytic converter theft passes Senate Ways and Means Committee

Measure moves on to Rules Committee, Senate floor vote a possibility

OLYMPIA – A bill to crack down on catalytic converter theft cleared a key legislative hurdle Monday as it passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Sponsor Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, said SB 5495 remains the best defense against the fast-rising crime during the 2022 legislative session. Wilson’s bill enacts tough new penalties against catalytic converter theft, makes unlawful sale of a catalytic converter a felony, and provides money to local law enforcement agencies for investigations and police “sting” operations.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a crime take off like this one,” Wilson said. “Ever since precious-metal prices went through the roof two years ago, thousands have been stolen in Washington state alone. I spotted a robbery in progress this weekend, just across the street from my house, as thieves tried to jack up a car. We can’t pretend this isn’t happening, and we can’t put it off until next year.”

The bill now moves on to the Senate Rules Committee for further consideration and a possible vote on the Senate floor. Monday was a deadline for policy-related bills to pass fiscal committees.

Meanwhile, in the state House of Representatives, a competing proposal supported by the scrap-metal industry also is moving forward. HB 1815, approved by the House Transportation Committee Monday, would leave most decisions to a task force that would present recommendations to the Legislature next year. The industry proposal also would establish a voluntary state registry of catalytic converters, to track ownership after thefts have occurred.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Strict record-keeping requirements for scrap-metal recyclers of catalytic converter purchases, including photo ID.
  • A ban on cash payments on the spot
  • A new fine for violations of laws governing scrap metal purchases – $1,000 per catalytic converter.
  • A new fine for unlawful possession of a catalytic converter – $2,000 per catalytic converter.
  • A new fine for attempted unlawful sale of a catalytic converter — $5,000 per catalytic converter. The crime becomes a Class C felony, rising to Class B with harsher penalties when more than five are involved.
  • The Washington State Patrol would be required to develop a comprehensive state strategy to combat catalytic converter theft, including grant and training program to local agencies.
  • The state’s “no-buy” database would be expanded to include individuals who have attempted to buy or sell stolen catalytic converters, and those who have attempted to conduct a transaction while under the influence of controlled substances.

Wilson said he hopes to obtain a $2 million appropriation for the grant and training program during this year’s budget deliberations.

“I’m looking forward to seeing this bill on the floor,” Wilson said. “And so are the thousands of Washington residents who have been victimized in this crime wave.”