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State Law Change Aims To Address Abandoned Vehicles

Legislation Would Prevent Future Vehicle Registrations For Abandoning Vehicles on City Streets A change in state law approved by the state Legislature and awaiting the signature of Governor Jim Doyle will prevent vehicle registrations by persons who have outstanding towing and storage charges associated with abandoned or unclaimed vehicles. Assembly Bill 419 will help the City of Milwaukee and other cities recover substantial costs that are incurred in dealing with the large number of abandoned vehicles on city streets, according to Ald. Michael S. D’Amato, chair of the Judiciary & Legislation Committee and sponsor of a Common Council resolution asking the city’s lobbyists to seek the change. Under current law, if an owner of a vehicle abandons the vehicle on city streets or does not claim the towed vehicle from the city tow lot, the city incurs the costs of towing, storing, processing, and disposing of the vehicle. “When you consider that roughly 17,000 vehicles are not picked up or abandoned at our tow lot each year, the city could collect over $1.5 million from parking scofflaws,” Ald. D’Amato said. Under AB 419 the state Department of Transportation is authorized to suspend or refuse vehicle registration if a person has unpaid towing and storage charges that have been reported by a local governmental authority. In 2003, the city processed approximately 17,000 abandoned or unclaimed vehicles for which no towing and storage fees were collected. Towing charges total $95 and storage fees total $20 a day. “Abandoned vehicles are not only a blight on city streets but they also occupy valuable street parking and make it difficult to plow and sweep our streets effectively. We need to change behavior so this is no longer seen as acceptable,” said Ald. D’Amato. Dorinda Floyd, administrative services director for the Department of Public Works, said there are other alternatives people can use to dispose of a vehicle such as donating the vehicle and receiving a tax deduction or selling the vehicle to a salvage dealer for parts or scrap. “These alternatives can be financially beneficial to the owner,” she said. Currently, if the owner of a vehicle fails to pay a citation for a nonmoving traffic violation (parking ticket) or appears in court in response to the parking ticket, the DOT can suspend the registration of the vehicle that was ticketed or refuse to register any vehicle owned by the violator or both — but current law does not address unpaid towing and storage charges. AB 419 allows the vehicle registration suspension or refusal mechanism to be used in cases of unpaid towing and storage charges associated with abandoned or unclaimed vehicles. In November 2002 the Common Council unanimously approved a resolution offered by Ald. D’Amato and the Judiciary & Legislation Committee directing the city’s lobbyists to petition for the change in the state law. “I want to commend our city lobbying team and the Department of Public Works for their hard work and the due diligence in making sure this change was brought forward,” said Ald. D’Amato. State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Bonnie Ladwig (R-Mount Pleasant) also deserve much credit for co-sponsoring AB 419 and strongly pushing for its approval in the Legislature, said Ald. D’Amato.