Senate resurrects, passes Wilson bill targeting vehicle-license fraud

OLYMPIA…Sen. Lynda Wilson’s perseverance paid off today when the state Senate revived her measure to address the unlawful out-of-state licensing of vehicles by Washington residents, then unanimously approved the bill – with less than four days left in the Legislature’s regular session.

“I never gave up on this legislation because the problem it would solve is particularly apparent in Clark County, and it involves millions that should be going to transportation-related needs,” said Wilson, R-Vancouver. “Once I was able to make my case to the right people on the majority side, things moved quickly. There’s very little time to convince the House to follow the Senate’s lead and get this bill in front of the governor, but it can still happen.”

Senate Bill 5362 would allow a one-time deferred prosecution as an incentive for vehicle owners to comply with state law, which gives new Washington residents 30 days to switch their driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

“It’s against the law for a Washington resident to license a vehicle in another state to avoid paying registration fees and sales tax here. But we know it happens, because in Clark County alone there are about 20,000 vehicles with license plates from elsewhere, mostly Oregon. In all this costs our state about $16 million each year,” said Wilson.

“My bill sends a simple message: If you’re going to be a legal resident of Washington, then your vehicles all need to be legally registered too,” she explained.

Under SB 5362, a first-time violator would not receive the standard, automatic $1,529 fine but a citation that would be 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.

Wilson, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said a recent discussion in that committee about Washington’s non-resident sales-tax exemption provided the opening to promote her bill, which had stalled after being endorsed by the Senate Transportation Committee.

“The committee chair wondered aloud if people who had moved into Washington were holding onto Oregon driver’s licenses to avoid paying sales tax in our state. That’s just what I needed to get this bill back on track,” she said.