No doubt state lawmakers will be congratulating themselves for all the things they accomplished this session. But tens of thousands of Washingtonians will be cursing them for their irresponsible indolence.

That’s how many people will be affected directly and indirectly by the scourge of catalytic converter theft. For days, no way to get to work, get kids to school or soccer, paying deductibles for repairs and, possibly, all of us paying higher premiums.

A much-needed catalytic converter bill would seem like a no-brainer. There was even a set of recommendations laid out in a report that legislators ordered to be completed last year.

But unless there’s the parliamentary equivalent of a last-ditch effort, folks are expected to leave Olympia on Monday without trying to reduce this persistent and costly crime. This would be an unacceptable dereliction of duty.

As part of the Legislature-ordered study, 23 law enforcement agencies across the state found more than 8,000 police reports were filed on catalytic converter theft from January to August last year. When the final numbers for the year are tallied, they are expected to match or exceed the more than 12,000 reported thefts for all of 2021.

Security cameras have captured thieves stealing a catalytic converter in about 25 seconds. Because catching people in the act is so difficult, King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gary Ernsdorff focused instead on targeting the black market, where stolen items are sold.


Ernsdorff was part of the work group that studied catalytic converter theft and what to do about it. He took to drafting legislation when he saw no activity in Olympia this year. “They (lawmakers) created a work group, they wanted a report. We gave them the report that laid out exactly what they needed to do, and then crickets,” he said.

In February, the editorial board highlighted Ernsdorff’s efforts to draft a bill after no one in the Legislature took the initiative. That got the attention of Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, who had sponsored previous legislation on this crime.

Wilson and Ernsdorff met with a wide variety of stakeholders including industrial and scrap metal recyclers. The product was Senate Bill 5740, which has three main components: a requirement that all purchasers of catalytic converters be licensed; more stringent record-keeping requirements for purchases of catalytic converters; and routine law enforcement inspections of licensed purchasers.

During a hearing in the Senate Law & Justice Committee, the bill had 79 people testify in support, eight against. It passed the committee with bipartisan support and stalled in Senate Transportation Chair Marko Liias’ committee. This, even after a legislative employee had a catalytic converter targeted in the staff parking lot; the Woodland School District testified about buses not being able to pick up special needs kids because of repeated thefts; and news of a March 15 bust in Kennewick that netted more than 500 catalytic converters from a scrap metal business.

Astonishingly, the House didn’t even take up the bill, even though the legislation calling for the report originated in that legislative body.

Ernsdorff said he has a clear idea of what will happen in 2023 if the Legislature punts until next year: “We’ll see tens of thousands of Washingtonians impacted by this crime. And a lot of frustration in the criminal justice community that doesn’t have the tools to deal with it.”

Wilson said: “This crime does pay and it is organized. I’m very disappointed. I will not quit on this. I’m planning to go full steam ahead (next year).”

Wilson and Ernsdorff and others deserve credit for pushing hard, but it shouldn’t be a tough call. Legislators — bring SB 5740 to the floor and have a debate. Such indolence will not be forgotten. Otherwise, vehicle owners will have every right to lambaste you when they find their catalytic converter gone and are left with nothing but excuses.