Seven drivers cited for out-of-state plates at Battle Ground schools

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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It was some parents’ turn to get in trouble at school early Friday morning.

They weren’t called into the principal’s office, though. They were pulled over by Washington State Patrol troopers.

Four troopers and one sergeant were positioned outside of Glenwood Primary School and Laurin Middle School by the department’s License Investigation Unit. They were out on Friday to try and find Washington residents with out-of-state license plates.

“If you see a driver dropping a kid off at school, that usually means they’re a local resident and live here,” Trooper Will Finn said.

Friday was the third time state patrol troopers from the license unit have been at the schools since the start of this school year after receiving multiple complaints from parents about other drivers with out-of-state plates. The state patrol contacted the district about setting up an operation outside of the two schools on Friday.

Trooper Richard Thompson said the earlier visits were to observe and then make contact with drivers who have out-of-state plates by sending them a letter detailing how to register their car in Washington and what could happen if they don’t.

If troopers found that someone was notified about having out-of-state plates and didn’t get their car registered in Washington, it could result in a $1,122 ticket.

While out at the two schools’ drop-offs Friday morning, the troopers made contact with 18 drivers and seven were cited for failure to initially register their vehicles, earning them the $1,122 ticket. One driver was cited for failure to secure a child. The drivers who weren’t issued citations received cards telling them to register in state within the next 15-30 days.

Thompson said he receives more than 1,000 complaints a year from residents about out-of-state plates. He thinks anger about the issue could be because residents feel like they’re paying their way and those who register their cars out of state aren’t.

Thompson said there are people who move to a new state and don’t remember to register or don’t think about it. But there are reasons people who live in Washington do sometimes knowingly register somewhere else, he added. He said it could be people buying cars in Oregon to avoid sales tax, or people looking to avoid license fees or transportation benefit district fees. He also said that Washington drivers have to renew their tabs every year, whereas Oregon drivers have to do so every other year.

“License fraud is a unique crime,” Thompson said. “A lot of crime, people don’t think about it when doing it. License fraud has some intent there.”

If found guilty of fraud, residents could have to pay two times all the taxes they missed out on, and if an investigation uncovers that they’ve knowingly registered multiple cars out of state, they have to pay for each car. Thompson said he’s seen cases where people end up paying between $10,000 to $20,000.

The license investigation unit in Clark County is the state patrol’s only such unit in Washington, according to Sgt. Glen Hobbs.

“It’s because of our proximity to Oregon,” Hobbs said. “It’s a violation anywhere in the state, but it’s more rampant here. People think they can blend in.”

Hobbs said the unit is looking to do more of these operations to try and nab people. They did one last spring in the White Salmon area and Friday’s was their first this year.

“We’re trying to catch these people being sneaky,” he said. “We all have to pay our fair share. These schools don’t run on nothing.”

Adam Littman: 360-735-4518; adam.littman@columbian.com; twitter.com/a_littman