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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 6, 2006

Legislature may ease used-car ticket shock

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

CHECK BEFORE BUYING

Anyone considering buying a used car should write down the car's license plate number and the last four digits of the vehicle's identification number, or VIN. The number usually can be found by looking through the front windshield near the dashboard on the driver's side of the car.

Then go to www4.honolulu .gov/mvrtitleinq and type in the VIN and license plate number to see if any unpaid tickets are indicated.

You also can check for problems by calling Honolulu's Traffic Violations Bureau at 538-5500.

The policy is based on Hawai'i Revised Statute 291-D-10 (b).

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Used-car owners likely will get relief this legislative session from paying for parking citations issued to prior owners.

Two bills are progressing that would effectively set aside a policy that state judiciary officials adopted last year requiring car owners to pay the tickets before they can get their cars registered.

Used-car dealers and the Honolulu Police Department support the bills, but state judiciary officials are concerned that taking away the requirement "will effectively remove the main incentive for individuals to pay their citations."

State lawmakers, however, believe the legislation will be adopted to resolve what they say is an unfair situation of a person being held liable for tickets issued to the previous car owner.

"I think chances are excellent that a bill of that nature will pass this session," said Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi'o), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing.

The committee approved the Senate version of the legislation for a vote on the Senate floor. The House has already passed its bill and sent it to the Senate.

The measures Senate Bill 2065 and House Bill 1825 were introduced after news reports about the policy that the judiciary began enforcing in September. Judiciary officials said this week they do not know how much money was collected from car owners paying tickets issued to the previous owners. The officials were working to see if that could be determined, judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa said.

The policy outraged some car owners, including Robert H. Webster, a 78-year-old retired salesman. He protested that the policy is unfair.

The Punchbowl resident feared he wouldn't be able to register his 1993 Buick Regal unless a parking citation involving a $65 fine issued to a previous owner was cleared.

Webster received a letter from the judiciary in October saying the parking citation was "cleared by the previous owner."

Nonetheless, Webster said he still thinks the policy is "a miscarriage of justice" and that he's not surprised that legislation to correct that is progressing.

PAYING FOR DEADBEATS

Used-car dealers called the policy "a vexing problem," according to testimony submitted to Menor's committee by the Hawai'i Automobile Dealers Association.

Joe Nicolai, owner of JN Chevrolet, paid $1,400 in a 10-day period to clear unpaid parking tickets from vehicles he obtained, according to testimony submitted to Menor's committee by the association's executive director, David Rolf.

"The logical and quick fix of the problem will allow commerce to again flow freely and the responsibility for paying unpaid tickets will rest with the proper party, not a purchasing dealer who accepts a vehicle in trade or a member of the public who purchases a car from another member of the public who has unpaid parking tickets associated with the vehicle," Rolf said.

Acting Capt. Bennett Martin of the Honolulu police traffic division said the department supports the legislation. The legislation, he said in testimony submitted to Menor's committee, will correct the law, which "places undue hardship on the innocent."

Judiciary officials do not take a position on the legislation, but worry that it will take away the incentive to pay for the tickets, Thomas Keller, the courts administrative director, said in written testimony submitted to Menor's committee.

GAPS IN TRACKING

Keller suggested that courts place a stop on the driver's licenses of the registered owners of the cars.

But the problem would be that the city keeps separate databases for car registrations and driver's licenses, he said.

In addition, the names might not be consistent. As an example, Keller said, one database may have the person as "John Smith" and the other as "John A. Smith," which would prevent matching the driver's license with the registered owner.

Keller said another concern is that if the new owner doesn't register the car, the old owner may be stuck with paying tickets racked up after the sale.

He also asked that because the computer systems of the judiciary and city motor vehicle registration would have to be reprogrammed at additional costs, the effective date for the new law be no earlier than Jan. 1, 2007.

Both bills say the legislation would take effect upon approval.

Menor acknowledged the concerns.

He said the effective date may have to be put off as the bills are tweaked during the legislative process, but that he still supports the legislation.

Blake Oshiro, D-33rd (Halawa, 'Aiea, Pearlridge), vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the news reports last year were one reason he introduced the House bill, which he believes involves the fairness issue. The parking violation should follow the driver, not the car, he said.

"My guess is that it (the legislation) will pass," he said.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: To check on outstanding parking citations on a used car, call the Traffic Violations Bureau at 538-5500. Do not call the Motor Vehicle Information and Processing Section or a satellite city hall. Information in an earlier version of this story was incorrect.