New law targeting vehicle-license fraud takes effect Sunday

Clark County legislator says change goes after well-known practice of licensing vehicles in other states

VANCOUVER… Sen. Lynda Wilson says nothing irritates people in her Clark County legislative district more than seeing Oregon license plates on vehicles that reside at Washington addresses, and she’s hoping a law that takes effect Sunday will make a difference.

“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. They’re annoyed because they follow the rules and pay what’s expected, only to see others gaming the system,” said Wilson, R-Vancouver, who sponsored the bill that created the law.

“It’s even more frustrating for me as a lawmaker because vehicle-license fraud also costs our state tens of millions of dollars that should be going into transportation infrastructure. This new approach addresses both issues and is long overdue.”

New residents of Washington have 30 days to obtain a Washington driver license and vehicle registration, and failing to do can bring a $1,529 fine. The law taking effect Sunday is a form of deferred prosecution, which means a first-time violator will instead receive a citation that gets dismissed if the vehicle owner goes to court and pays a $500 fine, obtains a valid Washington driver’s license and registers the vehicle in question. Owners who do not comply within 90 days of being cited will be subject to the $1,529 fine.

It’s been a dozen years since an attempt was made to quantify the license-fraud problem, Wilson said, and even then the cost was eye-opening: about 20,000 vehicles in Clark County had license plates from elsewhere, mostly Oregon, meaning $16 million in lost revenue each year. She first introduced the deferred-prosecution bill in 2017, and steadily gained bipartisan support within the Legislature, until this year’s version was approved unanimously on the final day of the 2019 session.

“This new law is about increasing enforcement and giving Washingtonians more incentive to comply with the rules that go with being a resident. If you live here, your vehicles all need to be registered here too,” Wilson said.