A law goes into effect Sunday intended to help address a problem that’s long plagued Southwest Washington: new residents who fail to register their out-of-state vehicles.
In Washington, residents are required to obtain a driver’s license and register their vehicle within 30 days of moving to the state. Those who improperly license their vehicle in another state to avoid paying taxes and fees could face a gross misdemeanor punishable by a year in county jail and fine of $1,529.
Previously, no part of the sentence could be suspended or deferred. But during the most recent legislative session, which concluded in April, lawmakers passed a bill that seeks to encourage scofflaws to register their vehicles by creating a less punitive path to compliance.
Under the deferral program set up by the new law, first-time offenders will instead receive a citation that will be dismissed if they go to court, pay a $500 fine, obtain a valid Washington driver’s license and register the vehicle in the state. Those who don’t comply will be cited and subject to the full $1,529 fine.
“Licensing vehicles in other states to save money is a well-known practice, especially in border counties, but people are so fed up that it’s the number-one concern I’ve heard in our district for a few years now,” said state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, the sponsor of the bill. “They’re annoyed because they follow the rules and pay what’s expected, only to see others gaming the system.”
In a written statement, Wilson said vehicle license fraud costs the state “tens of millions of dollars that should be going into transportation infrastructure.” She said the number of vehicles improperly registered in Oregon in Clark County means the loss of $16 million in revenue each year.
During a hearing for the legislation, Senate Bill 5362, Wilson cited a 2007 Washington State University study that found there were 20,000 cars registered in Oregon in Clark County that should be registered in Washington. She said during the hearing the problem has gotten worse as the area has grown.
Law enforcement has periodically targeted improperly registered vehicles. Calls to the Washington State Patrol, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department for this story were not returned.
The bill passed both chambers last session without a single vote against it. During a hearing of the bill, James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told a legislative panel his group was in support of the legislation. He explained law enforcement officers may be reluctant to issue the citations because the fines are so steep.
“Every once in a while our officers get accused of being human and hesitate a little bit to give a $1,500 ticket to someone who may be otherwise struggling,” he said.