State Sen. Jeff Wilson Testifies Before Committee on Catalytic Converter Bill


On Tuesday, 19th Legislative District state Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, testified before the Senate Law and Justice Committee in favor of his catalytic converter bill, known as Senate Bill 5740. 

The bill, which would require everyone involved in a catalytic converter transaction to have a license, creates the crime of trafficking in catalytic converters, requires record keeping for transactions and mandates the Washington State Patrol to conduct periodic inspections of licensed catalytic converter purchasers. While the deadline for committees to pass bills sponsored by members of their own chambers has already passed for the current legislative session, SB 5740 was exempted from the deadline on the grounds the bill is necessary to implement the budget.  

“I bring you this bill today to address what I will still say is one of the fastest growing if not the fastest growing crime in Washington state, which is the continued theft of catalytic converters,” Wilson told the committee. 

During his testimony, Wilson said at least 12 catalytic converters were stolen every day during 2021, with those thefts affecting people across the state.

“Why is this bill necessary? Well to me it's PPR, palladium, platinum and rhodium; three very precious metals worth a lot of money. So much money that it elevates these crimes and it attracts organized crimes,” Wilson said. “That’s what this bill is really trying to address.”

Wilson also told his Senate colleagues that while it’s already a crime to steal a catalytic converter, a more aggressive approach is needed to address the issue. 

“We need to up our game a little bit,” Wilson said. 

Wilson told the committee his bill would create a licensing requirement to address the issue of people engaging in catalytic converter transactions at informal locations around the state, mentioning parking lots as a specific example. 

“This bill says, ‘Slow that down a little bit.’ You can buy these but you have to be a licensed auto or scrap metal recycler,” Wilson said. 

Wilson added he did not want Washington state to be number one in catalytic converter thefts, declaring, “This is not a statistic we want.” 

He also said he recognizes the bill would not end all the crime related to catalytic converters because some people use sophisticated methods, but he does believe the bill would make a difference.

After testifying, Wilson received no questions from his colleagues and the committee’s vice chair, state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, who presided over the hearing on SB 5740 during the absence of chair Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, moved on to public testimony. 

Gary Ernsdorf, a senior prosecutor with King County Prosecutor’s Office, was the first person to testify. Ernsdorf said SB 5740 represents much of work done by a work group he was a part of to address the issue of catalytic converter theft. 

Telling the committee it is important “to recognize the impact on the individual,” Ernsdorf gave the example of a single parent whose car was stolen and now has difficulty taking care of their children.

According to Ernsdorf, the work group found drying up the marketplace for catalytic converters can help combat the problem. He also described catalytic converter transactions as taking place in two market places. One market place consisted of licensed recyclers, who the working group found were not receiving inspections. The other marketplace consisted of unlicensed dealers, who he said need to be licensed. Ernsdorf said SB 5740 would create a penalty for being unlicensed, adding, “That’s the kind of action we need.”

The second member of the public to testify was Shannon Barnett, a school transportation administrator.

Barnett called catalytic converter theft a “scourge,” adding the increase in catalytic converter thefts has made it harder to provide transportation to students with special needs. Barnett said his staff have come back to their workplace in the early morning to find catalytic converters stolen from five special needs buses, telling the committee such thefts disrupt service for special needs students and cost his agency over $3,000 per bus to fix. He added other school buses in his area have also been targeted.

Brad Tower, another testifier representing Schnitzer Steel, said the bill would make Schnitzer’s work more challenging, specifically mentioning an amendment sponsored by Dhingra. 

Holly Chisa, representing the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, also voiced opposition to the amendment while testifying. 

James King, of the Independent Business Association, expressed opposition to the entirety of Wilson’s bill. 

“This bill is a terrible misfire,” King said.

According to King, contrary to Ernsdorf’s testimony, SB 5740 does not represent findings of the work group that researched catalytic converter thefts, which he also served on. 

Mark Johnson, representing the Washington Retail Association, voiced support for the idea of taking action on catalytic converter theft, but added he wished the bill could be expanded to include support for those harmed by such crimes. 

“Catalytic theft is plaguing my members, their customers and employees,” Johnson said. “(But) something we feel this bill is lacking is restitution.”

Johnson said he’d like the bill to help individuals, mentioning the possibility of a small grant program, or help small businesses fix vehicles that have seen their catalytic converters stolen. 

Also testifying was Taylor Gardner of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Gardner expressed concerns the bill wasn’t addressing the theft aspect of the catalytic converter issue. Gardner told the committee experiencing catalytic converter theft is a very disruptive and expensive way to be victimized. 

Gardner told the committee there’s not a lot officers can do when they find someone with multiple detached catalytic converters.

“Existing theft laws just don’t work here,” Gardner said.

On Wednesday, Wilson released a statement criticizing the scrap industry for opposition to SB 5740. 

“We need to get after the guy working out of the back of a truck in a parking lot or a dark alley,” Wilson said in his statement. “It’s already against the law to steal a catalytic converter, but when people fence them, that’s where it becomes an organized crime. That’s why I was so surprised at the resistance I saw from the scrap metal industry and the auto wreckers at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. I think the public ought to know what we are arguing about in Olympia.”

Wilson said catalytic converter theft is unique among crimes in how much it has increased, claiming there was a 10,000% increase in catalytic converter thefts from 2019 to 2021. Wilson added Washington is ranked third in the country for catalytic converter thefts across the country, with over 4,200 converters reported stolen. 

“Yet the scrap metal industry and the auto wreckers tell us current law is working fine and nothing needs to change. All we need to do is look at the evidence of our own eyes and we can see that isn’t true. When catalytic converter components are worth more than gold, we have to change the way we do business,” Wilson said. 

According to the statement, the precious metals found in catalytic converters are highly valued.  Rhodium is currently traded at $9,700 an ounce, which is currently five times the price of gold, while palladium is valued at $1,505 an ounce and platinum is valued at $989 an ounce.

Prior to last year, Washington state treated catalytic converters as a car part no different than others that are removed, something that was only changed with the passage of House Bill 1815 in 2022. Under HB 1815, catalytic converter sales to scrapyards are treated with the same level of scrutiny and record keeping requirements of other transactions that might involve criminal activity, such as the scrapping of street signs, copper wiring and metal guardrails. Under current law, sellers are required to show proof of ownership and immediate cash payments are prohibited.

According to the statement, representatives of the scrap-industry claimed current laws are adequate and argued the proposed licensing requirements do not make allowance for wholesalers who buy catalytic converters from auto wreckers and resell to recyclers. The industry representatives instead proposed the state create a program to engrave numbers on catalytic converter casings.