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Bill offered as solution to unclaimed vehicles overpopulating impound lots

Special to the Legal News

Published: December 6, 2019

A Harrison County lawmaker has worked with representatives from state and local law enforcement agencies and the towing industry to devise a system to clear out unwanted cars from tow lots and storage facilities.
Rep. Don Jones, a Freeport Republican, introduced recently a bill in the Ohio House of Representatives that would reduce the glut of wrecked or abandoned vehicles left for disposal by local law enforcement agencies.
Filed as House Bill 345, the measure would establish procedures to allow the owner of a towing service or a storage facility to obtain title to another's motor vehicle after the following stipulations have been met:
• Law enforcement ordered the motor vehicle to be towed, and the vehicle or items in the vehicle are not necessary to a criminal investigation;
• The service or facility owner has sent proper notice to the vehicle owner and any lienholder;
• The vehicle continues to remain unclaimed for 60 days after notice was received; and
• The service or facility owner executes an affidavit with the clerk of courts affirming that proper requirements have been met to take title.
Additionally, HB 345 would require a clerk of court to issue a certificate of title for a motor vehicle to a service or facility owner that presents an affidavit affirming compliance with all necessary procedures.
"Ohio towing and recovery companies are a vital part of public safety services and are routinely called by law enforcement and public safety officials to respond to accidents and emergencies to clear Ohio roads and highways," Jones told fellow lawmakers seated for the Transportation and Public Safety Committee during sponsor testimony. "Wrecked or abandoned vehicles that pose a public safety threat must be cleared from the roadways and public property, towed to a storage facility and stored to be recovered by the owner or lienholder.
"The proposed legislation deals directly and only with vehicles that are ordered into storage by law enforcement or public safety entities."
These vehicles, Jones said, are abandoned in storage facilities across the Buckeye State because in many cases they have little to no value.
He estimated their numbers in the thousands.
"... Towing and storage companies have no recourse to acquire the vehicle's title and properly dispose of them," the lawmaker added.
Currently, local chiefs of police or county sheriffs are required to spend time and resources, notifying vehicle owners and lienholders that the failure to claim the vehicle may result in loss of vehicle title.
Law enforcement, then, must acquire the vehicle's title and disposing of the vehicle if it is ultimately abandoned.
Absent any action by law enforcement, towing and storage facilities are stuck with these clunkers.
"HB 345 will create a process that enables towing and storage companies the ability to acquire the titles to these abandoned vehicles if the law enforcement entities decide not to process the vehicle," Jones said. "HB 345 will deem vehicles abandoned 60 days after the vehicle owner or lienholder is notified by law enforcement.
"This time period provides the law enforcement entity ample time to decide if they would like to acquire the vehicle title for disposal or any purpose they deem necessary."
He said the legislation would not modify the current process law enforcement may utilize to acquire the vehicle's title in any way, and that they may continue to do so as they deem necessary.
"However, if the law enforcement entity chooses not to do so, Ohio towing and recovery companies need a method to properly dispose of the thousands of vehicles that are currently piling up in lots across the state, because there is no current recourse for proper disposal," the lawmaker said.
HB 345, which has cosponsor support of three fellow House members, had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication.
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