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Bill gives drivers chance to appeal toll bridge late fees

Some drivers who cross the highway 520 toll bridge have complained about unfair late penalties, saying they never got the original bill in the mail. A measure just approved in the state legislature gives drivers a chance to appeal.

“In Kirkland, for example, there’s a woman who had her toll bill late fees…add up to $3,000,” said Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, bill sponsor.

The bill, passed by the House 97-0 and now awaiting the governor’s signature, gives judges in the state’s special toll court the discretion to waive penalties if they find a driver’s explanation reasonable. Until now, they had no authority.

In one case, Habib said, the Washington State Department of Transportation acknowledged that a toll bill was sent to the wrong address, but a judge refused to waive penalties assessed to the driver because the law did not allow for that.

“It allows individuals to plead their cases for legitimate excuses for not paying their toll bill, to give the judge the discretion to reduce of waive the penalty, not the actual toll,” explained Habib.

Some drivers have complained that the toll bills mailed to drivers come in nondescript, white envelopes that sometimes got tossed in the recycling bin. A Senate amendment to the original House bill calls for clearer markings on envelopes containing the toll bills. Other drivers complained that they never got the bills or that they were not forwarded to a driver’s new address.

Habib says his bill was designed to put more fairness in the toll payment process initially approved by the legislature.

“I think they went a little too far and tied the judges hands a little too much, inadvertently, because we do want people to have some equity and some fairness so this tries to strike that balance,” said Habib. He admitted he’s also concerned that the legislation might create loopholes so the bill requires an annual report back to the legislature.

Failure to pay tolls triggers a $5 late penalty after 15 days and another $40 penalty after 80 days.

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