A Southwest Washington lawmaker is leading the charge in proposing harsher penalties for those who buy and sell the precious metals extracted from stolen catalytic converters.
State Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, has put forward House Bill 1840 as increasing catalytic converter thefts are disrupting lives and costing victims thousands of dollars.
"It doesn't matter where you live. From what several law enforcement agencies are showing us, the crime of catalytic converter theft is skyrocketing in every corner of the state," Cheney stated in a news release. "The price tag for repairing the automobiles and the disruption that happens to daily lives comes at a time when many families are already feeling the pinch of higher fuel and food costs. We need to give law enforcement and prosecutors more tools to combat this rising crime, especially with Oregon having already passed similar legislation. Thieves now have a greater incentive to cross state lines and sell stolen metal in Washington."
The proposed legislation would make it a Class C felony for a second or subsequent offense “of removing or obliterating identifying information on catalytic converters” and would create a sentencing enhancement for stealing private metal property that is sold online.
The law would also apply to scrap metal businesses that purchase catalytic converters unless the owner can prove it came from his or her own vehicle.
The bill states, “No scrap metal business may enter into a transaction to purchase or receive private metal property from any person who is not a commercial enterprise or owner of the vehicle from which the catalytic converter was removed. No scrap metal business may enter into a transaction with an owner of a vehicle from which a catalytic converter was removed unless the owner provides the year, make, model, and vehicle identification number for the vehicle from which it was removed."
According to Cheney, in 2021, more than 12,000 catalytic converter thefts were reported in Washington. That number is expected to be significantly higher once final data is collected for 2022, Cheney said.
"Unfortunately, the ease in which a criminal can cut off and steal catalytic converters for their precious metals makes it an attractive option for those looking for a quick financial score," Cheney stated in the release. "As technology evolves, more and more precious metals are needed to keep up with demand. Our criminal code needs to evolve as well to protect the law-abiding members of our communities."
The legislation would also fund the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ comprehensive state law enforcement strategy targeting metal theft and a "no-buy" database program. Both were created a decade ago but never funded.
While the policy committee cutoff for the 2023 legislative session has passed, Cheney said in the release no bill is truly "dead" in Olympia.
"If it's important enough, the majority party can bring this bill straight to the floor for a vote," Cheney said. "I'm hoping the bipartisan nature of the bill and the glaring need to crack down on catalytic converter theft will be enough to get us over this legislative hurdle."
The 105-day 2023 legislative session is scheduled to end April 23.