Wilson bill on vehicle-license fraud set for committee hearing Wednesday

OLYMPIA…Sen. Lynda Wilson’s legislation to address the unlawful out-of-state licensing of vehicles by Washington residents will come before the Senate Transportation Committee at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Senate Bill 5362 would allow a one-time deferred prosecution as an incentive for vehicle owners to comply with state law, and give officers a new enforcement approach.

“There’s nothing new about people licensing vehicles in other states to save money. That’s especially true in border counties like Clark County, where we have some 20,000 vehicles with license plates from other states, mostly Oregon,” said Wilson, R-Vancouver. “But whether the owners want to admit it or not, pretending to be an Oregon resident to dodge our registration fees and sales tax is a form of fraud. And it means our state misses out on about $16 million each year that should be staying here for transportation-related needs.”

State law gives new Washington residents 30 days to switch their driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. Under Wilson’s bill, the citation issued to a first-time violator 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 standard penalty of around $1,500.

“The goals here are to increase enforcement, hold violators accountable and get more people to stop dodging the law and comply instead,” said Wilson. “And the message is simple: If you’re going to be a legal resident of Washington, then your vehicles all need to be legally registered too, which would avoid the fine altogether.”

Wilson’s legislation cleared the Senate Transportation Committee last year but was stopped short of a full Senate vote. This year’s measure, SB 5362, has gained some helpful new sponsorship: the committee’s Democrat chairman, Sen. Steve Hobbs from Snohomish County, and its Republican leader, Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, whose legislative district includes a small portion of northeast Clark County.

Wilson noted the understaffed Washington State Patrol unit that investigates vehicle-license fraud provided an update to the committee when it met in Vancouver for a work session in September. At the time, she said, the committee chairman observed how Wilson’s 2018 legislation “would have really helped” had it become law during that session.