Bill would end replacing license plates every 7 years

OLYMPIA — Few laws infuriate Washington car owners like the one requiring license plates be replaced every seven years.

Soon it could be wiped from the books and you can keep those plates forever.

Under a bill idling in the state Senate, plates would be replaced only when a vehicle changes hands. The new owner would have to pay for new plates and reregister the vehicle, according to the legislation discussed at a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The matter of replacing plates is a thorny issue with vehicle owners, Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said in an interview after testifying on the bill.

“They have to pay to get new plates every seven years and many times there’s no reason to except the law says we have to replace them,” she said.

While Weikel said she would welcome different rules on the plates, she and other auditors testified against Senate Bill 5890 because it contains other provisions, which will result in new or higher fees on tens of thousands of car-related transactions every year.

For example, today a person can renew their registration online or in a county licensing office without paying service fees that are charged by private sub-agents who operate in stores and offices around the state. The bill would require counties to start imposing those service fees.

“That’s just a plain old increase in fees with no increase in service,” Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore told the Senate panel.

Another proposed change would allow auto dealers to process recording of titles and registration; today that work must be done by a county licensing office or sub-agent.

“Our current business model provides the accountability and checks and balances” sought by the consumers and the electorate, Weikel testified.

Kurt Strovink, executive director of the Washington State Independent Auto Dealers Association, said the bill would aid consumers by modernizing a “burdensome and costly” process.

Most of Wednesday’s 45-minute hearing focused on everything but the very unpopular requirement for periodic replacement of license plates.

When former Gov. Chris Gregoire set up a web page for residents to list the laws they most wanted to change, this ranked fifth among nearly 2,000 ideas.

Existing law stems from research on the longevity of reflective materials compiled by the Department of Licensing in concert with the Washington State Patrol. Last year, the licensing department suggested allowing replacement of plates every 10 years instead of seven but the Legislature did not move on it.

Keeping plates forever is an idea which enjoys broad support among lawmakers and motivated the prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

But he said as he delved into the licensing and registration process deeper, he discovered other revisions should be made to improve customer service.

That could be the bill’s undoing as senators took no action Wednesday.

It “sounds like it needs a little bit more work,” said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, who is a co-chair of the transportation committee.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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