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House lawmakers OK bill to help people retrieve property from towed vehicles

At a minimum, having a vehicle towed is an inconvenience. However, for people without a permanent address, losing that access could also mean losing everything they own – winter coats, family photographs, homework, even a loved one’s ashes.

Nearly 15 years ago, Minnesota passed a law stating indigent people have the right to retrieve contents of an impounded vehicle without charge. However, there is no penalty for violating that right.

On a 122-0 vote Thursday, the House passed HF975 sponsored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview) which would alter some procedures lot operators must follow regarding the retrieval of private property from impounded vehicles. It would also offer a remedy when rights to retrieval are improperly denied.

It now goes to the Senate.

The bill would allow the state to enforce a law that is already on the books, so there is a consequence for towing companies destroying people’s property, said Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca).

It would apply to nonpublic lots or those with exclusive contracts. Reasons for denial would need to be specific and put in writing.

The proposed legislation would explicitly allow a vehicle owner to file a civil suit and, if successful, could provide injunctive relief, compensation for lost property, attorney’s fees and additional damages of $1,000. Any civil action would need to be taken within 12 months.

Any vehicle owner would be permitted to retrieve identifications, medicine and medical equipment.

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