Vehicle registration fees a hot topic

DENVER — Controversial late registration fines may go away for some vehicles, or it just might be lowered for trailers. That depends on which of five measures before the Colorado Legislature actually reach the governor’s desk.

Thing is, though, three of the measures that would do away with the fine altogether have been introduced by Republican lawmakers, bills that the Democrat-controlled Legislature and a Democratic governor are unlikely to approve.

Sen. Al White said his is one of them, and the Hayden Republican said it just doesn’t make any sense to keep the increased fines around at all.

Like SB44 introduced by Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and SB57 by Sen. Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, White’s SB4 returns the late fee to the old $10 fine that county clerks can waive at their discretion.

Doing anything else is just too confusing, White said.

“With a nineteen-and-a-half-million-dollar fiscal note on mine, I’d say the chance of it going anywhere are pretty slim,” White said of his bill “Still, I think it’s the best way to go.”

The remaining two bills are being pushed by Gov. Bill Ritter in response to criticism from across the state, in part because the fines became effective after some car owners had opted not to register a vehicle for one reason or another.

Though the two bills haven’t been introduced yet, one would lower the late penalty for trailers, and the other would create an exemption process to allow county clerks to waive the fine, but only for specific reasons, said Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, who is to carry one of the measures.

Rice said he doesn’t want clerks to have blanket authority to waive the fine, because they would apply it unevenly.

“What is a more reasoned approached than just going back to a $10 fee that was sporadically enforced based on what county you’re in … is to allow the clerks to work with the Department of Revenue to establish criteria that can be more uniformly applied,” Rice said. “With most cases, the late fee will continue to apply because those who are late are being subsidized by those who register their vehicles on time.”

He said the criteria is to include giving clerks enough leeway to waive all or part of the fee depending on a motorist’s “very unusual” circumstances, though he wasn’t specific on what those reasons would be.

Rice said newly appointed Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, is to carry the measure to lower fines on trailers, by setting the late fee based on the trailer’s weight and value. Currently, owners pay the same for trailers as a motorized vehicle, which can range anywhere from $29 to $71 a year, depending on its weight.

Rice, who introduced the measure last year that increased vehicle registration fees and created the fine, said the fees are still cheaper than most states.

Last year’s measure, SB108, was designed to bring in more money to the state — about $225 million this year alone — to pay for structurally deficient roads and bridges.

The increase, however, caught many motorists off guard last summer.

Many said the fine was unfair because they rarely used a vehicle for various reasons, particularly their boat or utility trailers.


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