Wilson bill combatting catalytic converter theft gets hearing Tuesday

Measure is receiving attention during final weeks of 2023 legislative session

OLYMPIA – A proposal from Sen. Jeff Wilson that takes a fresh approach to catalytic converter theft gets a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, and will remain under consideration through the remainder of the 2023 legislative session.

Senate Bill 5740 takes aim at the crime rings behind Washington’s fastest-growing crime, by going after those who purchase stolen catalytic converters in order to recycle them for their valuable precious-metal content.

The hearing takes place in the Senate Law and Justice Committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Senate Hearing Room 4, John A. Cherberg Building, Olympia. Once the hearing begins, it can be streamed on TVW, Washington state’s public affairs TV network, at this link.

The measure was not subject to the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline for consideration of bills last week because it has a budgetary impact. Bills considered necessary to implement the budget may be considered through the final day of the 2023 legislative session, scheduled to adjourn by April 23.

Wilson, R-Longview, said the measure is a carefully considered approach to a crime that has skyrocketed over the last two years, as precious metal prices have increased. Some 4,000 thefts were reported in Washington during 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, ranking the state third in the nation. Preliminary figures for 2022 put the state on pace to match or exceed that figure.

“Thousands of motorists across Washington state have been victimized by thieves who crawl under their cars and trucks with reciprocating saws and lop off their tailpipes,” Wilson said. “Repairs can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the model and the extent of the damage, and vehicles can be laid up for weeks.

“When we in the Legislature consider changes to the law, we have to ask ourselves, how can we be effective? It’s already illegal to steal a catalytic converter, and obviously that isn’t enough. We need to aim higher, at those further up the chain. We need to realize this really is an organized crime.”

Last year Oregon police busted theft rings based in Beaverton and Medford believed responsible for stealing thousands of catalytic converters in several western states, including Washington.

Under the latest version of Wilson’s bill, those who purchase catalytic converters removed from vehicles must:

  • Obtain a valid license as a scrap dealer or an auto wrecker,
  • Post it on display at their place of business,
  • Keep meticulous records of each transaction, including a photocopy of the seller’s driver license, and,
  • Promptly report any transaction to police that appears to be suspicious.

Anyone purchasing five or more catalytic converters without a license would be guilty of a Class B felony, trafficking in catalytic converters, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Purchase of four or fewer would be a Class C felony.

“This is aimed at the people at the ‘fence’ level and higher,” Wilson said. “No one who operates out of the back of a truck in a parking lot or a dark alley is likely to post a license and keep records.”

Wilson said the bill aims to continue the work begun by HB 1815 last year, which was designed to prevent stolen catalytic converters from entering legitimate retail channels in the state of Washington. Provisions enacted last year include a ban on cash payments on the spot. Wilson also is seeking $2.2 million in this year’s budget to pay for law enforcement programs authorized last year but never funded.