- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

Northern Virginia lawmakers hope to draft legislation that would regulate towing companies and help deter predatory practices in the state.

State Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, said towing practices have become increasing problems in urban areas.

Mr. O’Brien and other state lawmakers have scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the auditorium of the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, to speak with vehicle owners who have had problems with towing companies.

Information from the hearing will be used to draft legislation to present to the General Assembly in January, he said.

“It has been a long time since there was a meeting on this matter,” said Mr. O’Brien, who serves as chairman of the Virginia General Assembly’s joint subcommittee studying the vehicle towing and recovery industry.

Towing companies have gone without federal or state oversight since 1995, when the federal government eliminated the Interstate Commerce Commission. Localities are allowed to regulate towing prices but not industry practices.

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, has introduced federal legislation that would allow municipalities to require towing companies to provide a minimum level of service and responsibility to the public. The bill also would allow states to require written permission from a property owner before a vehicle is towed and require property owners to be present while a vehicle is being towed.

Mr. O’Brien, who supports Mr. Moran’s bill, said the federal legislation is limited to interstate highways, but the Virginia legislation would be applied to state and local jurisdictions.

He said he has asked Mr. Moran or a member of his staff to attend the hearing.

A representative from the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) is expected to speak at the hearing. DPOR regulates dozens of occupations and professions through 19 boards comprising practitioners and residents appointed by the governor.

At least three representatives from the towing industry also are expected to speak.

“It’s one of those tricky issues,” Mr. O’Brien said. Towing costs have increased partly because of higher gasoline prices. “The cost up here is much greater than it is downstate.”

Also, it’s a public safety issue because police “have a compelling need for towing” at accident scenes, but they might be limited by the bids of towing companies, the senator said.

State legislation will require the consent of restaurants and other small businesses, whose customers often are affected.

Towing from residential parking lots also is becoming more frequent as urban populations increase. Mr. O’Brien said, for example, that residents of town houses who have guests for a party might exceed their vehicle limit.

“People come out and find that seven of them have been towed,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Their car is the second most valuable piece of property that most people own.”

Some towing companies accept only cash, which often creates problems for the owner who has arrived to retrieve a vehicle.

Those interested in speaking at the public hearing can register by calling Alan Wambold with the Division of Legislative Services at 804/786-3591.

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