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Scrap industry pushes back on legislation intended to curb catalytic converter theft in Washington

The scrap industry pushed back on the legislation, arguing there are already robust record-keeping rules in place.

SEATTLE — Washington state lawmakers debated a bill Tuesday that would limit the resale of used catalytic converters to scrap dealers, to curb soaring thefts of the devices.

“The increase [in thefts] is over 1,300% since last year alone. Catalytic converters have now placed Washington state in the top four [states] for overall thefts,” said Sen. Jeff Wilson (R-Longview).

Wilson's bill would prohibit the resale of used catalytic converters to scrap dealers, except from commercial enterprises and vehicle owners, and bar on-the-spot cash payments, according to his office.

The converters contain precious metals and are attached to the undercarriage of most vehicles. Surveillance video has shown thieves sawing out the parts underneath cars, trucks, and vans, removing them within seconds.

The scrap recycling industry pushed back on the legislation, arguing there are already robust record-keeping rules in place, as well as penalties for people who buy stolen materials.

“To continue to regulate the regulated doesn't get to the issue of where these catalytic converters are going,” said Holly Chisa with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries PNW Chapter.

A separate bill would create a task force to investigate possible solutions, but police and prosecutors say it's an urgent problem and they need help now.

“Current regulations, and there are some, are clearly ineffective,” said Gary Ernsdorff, King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney, who has been looking into the crimes.

“Given COVID and other issues, many judges are unlikely to hold these low-level offenders for a property crime, so an arrest really is just an inconvenience. They are back out on the street later that day or maybe the next day,” he said.

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