A Bellevue lawmaker wants to give accused toll-skippers more leeway to fight toll violation penalties.
Under current law, administrative judges can waive the $40 penalty charged to vehicle owners who don’t pay their toll bills only if the driver can prove his or her vehicle was transferred, stolen, sold, leased, or rented before the toll was incurred.
Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib wants to change that. He is sponsoring House Bill 1941, a measure he said would help make the tolling penalties more equitable.
During Wednesday’s public hearing on the bill, Habib said his proposal would allow judges more flexibility by giving them the authority to consider mitigating circumstances when enforcing Department of Transportation tolling penalties.
“It’s a consumer protection bill,” Habib said. “Even in cases in which the Department of Transportation knows that a toll charge bill has not been received, or that it’s been sent to the wrong address, or the person never actually received it in their hand, they (judges) are not currently in a situation where they can waive the civil penalty.”
Lorraine Lee, chief administrative law judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings, spoke at the bill’s hearing. She said her office handled nearly 34,000 toll violations last year and supports the Legislature giving judges the authority to consider a broader range of defenses.
Drivers who fail to pay their toll charges within 80 days are fined $40. If they want to contest the penalty, they have to appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings either by mail, or at the OAH office in Fife or Seattle.
As more tolling projects are rolled out, more penalties are expected.
According to the Department of Transportation, during the first six months of tolling on state Route 520, drivers attempted to argue mitigating circumstances not currently recognized by state law in approximately 2,000 toll adjudication hearings.
Transportation officials speculated the number would likely have been greater if drivers weren’t discouraged from appealing the penalties after being informed judges would not waive them.