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An updated ‘stuff-out-of-the-car’ bill gets transportation panel’s OK

At a minimum, having a car towed is an inconvenience. However, for people without a permanent address, losing access to their car could also mean losing everything they own.

Nearly 15 years ago, Minnesota passed a law to address the issue, allowing people without homes access to property in an impounded vehicle without charge.

That was the stuff-out-of-the-car bill 1.0, said Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview). Stuff-out-of-the-car bill 2.0 would alter some procedures for retrieving private property from impounded vehicles.

Some indigent owners been denied the opportunity to get things out of their vehicle and haven’t been told why. The 2008 law didn’t have remedy in these situations, Moller said.

Approved by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday and sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, HF975 would require reasons for denial be specific and put in writing. Impound lot owners would have to pay property owners damages if retrieval were improperly denied.

Ron Elwood, supervising attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, illustrated the problem with a client whose car was towed following an accident. She was not allowed to retrieve her personal property, but the impound operator tossed the car and all its contents.

“There’s cases like this all over the state,” Elwood said.

The bill would explicitly allow a vehicle owner to file a civil suit and, if successful, could provide injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and additional damages of $1,000.

Additionally, impound lot operators would have to allow any vehicle owner to retrieve identifications, medicine and medical equipment.

Many industry representatives are on board.

Minnesota Professional Towing Association Director Lance Klatt wrote the bill’s compromise language has been developed over many months, and he appreciates the willingness to find language that is workable.

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