Wednesday , February 04, 2015 - 10:38 AM
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow police officers to tow and impound vehicles of unlicensed drivers or people driving on expired, revoked or suspended licenses narrowly passed a House committee Tuesday.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Utah Highway Patrolman by profession, is sponsor of HB86.
“The State Tax Commission told me that if someone were to have their vehicle impounded under this scenario, it would be zero cost to go and get your vehicle out,” Perry told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee.
However, the driver would be on the hook to pay towing fees that could run between $140 to $250.
Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, had continuing concerns about the bill.
“It may help the committee to understand the charges a person has to pay to get a car out of impound,” Tanner said.
Those fees can stem from DUI charges or other offenses related to the traffic stop, along with insurance and registration costs, plus a possible $75 personal property charge for conductng an inventory of items within the car.
“They told me that under this law there would be no charge. It would basically be like having your vehicle abandoned or stolen,” Perry said.
Tanner suggested that HB86 could fall particularly hard on illegal immigrants and Perry acknowledged that possibility.
However, HB86 would leave the tow and impound to the officer’s discretion, allowing latitude to have another licensed driver come and drive the vehicle away from the scene. Driving without a license is currently a Class C misdemeanor.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, moved to remove a line in the bill that the driver knew that his or her license had expired. But Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, wanted to retain it so that officers could check databases to confirm whether the driver had ever been sent a notice to that effect.
Perry said he could go either way.
“We’re not out to catch innocent people, we want to catch people who are purposely subverting the law,” Perry said.
Ray objected to officers having to spend more time on the side of the road checking databases.
“Keep it simple and let the officer have that discretion. That’s what they’re trained to do and that’s what they’ve sworn to uphold an oath to do,” Ray said.
Ray’s amendment passed 7 to 4, and the controversial bill received further discussion. Josh Daniels of the Utah Libertas Institute voiced opposition to HB86.
“We really value property rights of those who own vehicles in the state of Utah. In a situation where a vehicle is impounded, you’re looking essentially at a temporary government seizure of that piece of property,” Daniels said.
Daniels pointed out that the operator of the vehicle might not be its owner.
“Take for example a father with an unruly son,” Daniels said, noting that the father would be penalized for the son’s behavior.
“Afford to the owner some opportunity to claim their property without punishing them,” Daniels said.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, shared that concern, one that Perry said is already covered under the law.
“I have some uneasiness with the bill,” Peterson said. “As it currently stands, I won’t be able to support the motion.”
The bill cleared committee on a 6-5 vote and advances to the House for further debate.
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.
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