February 22, 2013 at 5:28 PM
Toll penalty unfair? House bill would give judges more leeway
Washington state drivers who get stuck with a $40 toll penalty would get the chance to explain any “mitigating circumstances” to a judge, under House Bill 1941, filed this week.
Currently, judges in state toll court have virtually no leeway and reduce the fines only about one-fourth of the time — for instance, when a driver is sent to war in Afghanistan and doesn’t receive state notices in the mail right away.
For each unpaid crossing, the state Department of Transportation tacks on a $5 administrative fee after 15 days, and a $40 civil penalty after 80 days.
This Seattle Times story last yearexplains how families can quickly lose hundreds of dollars, simply by procrastinating or failing to receive forwarded mail. Washington state has some of the nation’s harshest fines for toll scofflaws.
It’s unclear how much money drivers would save or the state would lose, if the bill were to pass. In the first six months of tolling on Highway 520 last year, about 2,000 drivers tried in vain to explain away $48,000 in penalties, legislative staff says. But they point out that some drivers don’t even bother challenging their fines because they know the system is rigid. So there would likely be an increase in hearings and legal costs to the state, a fiscal note says.
The stakes become even higher considering the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the potential spread of tolling to the I-90 floating bridge, I-5 express lanes, Highway 99 tunnel, Columbia River Crossing or other corridors.
Sponsors are Cyrus Habib, D-Bellevue; House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Larry Springer, D-Kirkland.
In other tolling news, Clibborn and Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, have filed House Bill 1945, requiring the state to study I-90 toll options to relieve costs to Mercer Island residents or people who work there. The state would study charging only those drivers who cross all of Lake Washington, and study whether Mercer Island drivers could choose only half of the lake to pay tolls on, either west or east of the island.
A companion Senate bill was filed by Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue.
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