Abandoned vehicle bills cruising along

  • An abandoned vehicle sits on the side of the road. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

  • Abandoned vehicles are removed from Mamalahoa Highway in South Kona. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)

KAILUA-KONA — A bill that would require counties to get abandoned vehicles off public roads will be considered by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means this Wednesday before the proposal can go before the full state Senate for a vote.

The bill’s companion in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, was recommended for approval by the House Committee on Judiciary in a hearing on Thursday.

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The legislation would require counties get the eyesores and hazards off roadways within 10 days of being abandoned. Current law only says counties “may” remove vehicles that have been abandoned. In Hawaii County, after police initiate and ultimately refer a report of an abandoned vehicle to the Department of Environmental Management, that agency’s practice is to have the contracted towing service remove the rig within 72 hours.

When the Senate bill went through its first round of committee hearings — specifically the Senate Committees on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs and Transportation and Energy — senators amended the original bill to only require that counties take abandoned vehicles into custody within 10 days. The bill’s first iteration would have required officials to both take them in and dispose of them in that same window of time. Those committees unanimously recommended the bill be approved with their amendments earlier this month.

That original proposal would have conflicted with another statute, which requires counties to give written notice to a vehicle’s registered owner before getting rid of it and letting them know what will happen to the car within 10 days of the notice’s mailing or 20 for an out-of-state address.

In comments dated Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management Director William Kucharski, who opposed the original bill, said removing the requirement for disposal within 10 days “is positive.”

That’s not the only change the Senate committees made to the bill.

The committees also amended the law’s notification requirement for abandoned vehicles, which currently requires counties to immediately notify the vehicle’s registered owner once any abandoned vehicle is taken into custody.

The amended version of the proposal at hand would change that by only requiring notification be sent for abandoned vehicles that have been reported stolen. The proposal also repeals the requirement that counties dispose of abandoned vehicles through a public auction.

The committees said in their report that the requirements “are unnecessarily burdensome.”

But Kucharski said the county doesn’t support removing the notification requirement, saying the county doesn’t find it appropriate for the law to permit the removal and subsequent sale or destruction of personal property “without any obligation to notify the owner of what may occur.”

“A process must be put into effect whereby these vehicles can be retrieved by the lawful owner, where the owner has been appropriately notified and in a timely manner,” he wrote.

Protection for vehicle owners is particularly necessary given the rate of part-time residents in the state and military personnel deployed elsewhere, he added.

Kucharski added changing the law to require that counties get abandoned vehicles off the roads within 10 days won’t have much of an impact on the local department’s operations, saying current practice requires an abandoned vehicle be towed within 72 hours of getting a report from police.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means was scheduled to hold a public decision making on Friday, but deferred the measure until Wednesday, Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, the bill’s companion continues to make its way through the state’s House of Representatives.

On Feb. 14, members of the House Committee on Transportation unanimously recommended House Bill 2442 be passed, also with amendments. It was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary, which also recommended the bill be passed with amendments. Amendments and the committee report from the Judiciary committee were not available Friday.

Unlike the Senate version of the measure, the version of the bill as amended by the transportation committee keeps the requirement that vehicles be disposed of within 10 days of being abandoned.

The amended proposal also repeals altogether the requirement that written notice be sent to the legal and registered owner, instead simply mandating that the county agency responsible for dealing with abandoned vehicles give the owner 20 days to claim it.

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Kucharski wrote to the House Committee on Judiciary outlining his opposition to the amended proposal, again identifying the conflict between requiring that counties dispose of vehicles within 10 days and giving the owner 20 days to claim the vehicle before disposal.

He also said the county doesn’t support removing the notification requirement, making similar points as outlined in his comments on the senate measure.