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Friday, January 17, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Wondering what you owe for that December license tab? Here’s how to find out

The state Department of Licensing has temporarily stopped sending out car tab renewal notices as a court battle, and confusion, swirl over an initiative limiting their cost. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The state Department of Licensing has temporarily stopped sending out car tab renewal notices as a court battle, and confusion, swirl over an initiative limiting their cost. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington motorists wondering how much they must pay to renew their December license tabs may have to wait for weeks to get the official notice from the state Department of Licensing.

“We’re told the December renewal notices are not going to be out until late December,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said. “The January notices will be mailed around mid-December.”

Instead, motorists can check online by entering their license plate number and some other identifying information. Or they can make a trip to the county auditor’s office or a sub-agency, which can look it up for them.

The short answer: It’s more than $30, despite what Initiative 976 dictates, as long as a court order blocking the ballot measure remains in place. How much more depends on where you live, and in some cases the size or type of the vehicle you are renewing.

If the courts ultimately uphold I-976 and let it become law, state officials expect to have a refund program for everyone whose tabs expired on or after Dec. 5, when the initiative was originally scheduled to take effect. But there are no details on that yet, Dalton said.

The initiative and court case have generated some confusion among motorists, she said.

“We get a lot of generic questions we cannot answer,” Dalton said. “So far, it’s been pretty calm.”

Although license tabs expire on a specific date, law enforcement officials can’t tell that date just looking at a plate while you’re driving down the street. If you are stopped and an officer checks your registration, they’ll know, State Patrol Communications Director Chris Loftis said. But most will follow standard practice and exercise what’s known as “officer’s discretion”: They won’t give out ticket if the motorist has a tab for that month, even if it is past the expiration date.

Officers have stopped some motorists with November tabs who said they were waiting until I-976 took effect to renew their registration. They got tickets because even if the court order hadn’t blocked the ballot measure, motorists with November tabs would have to pay the old schedule of taxes and fees to get a 2020 tab.

Loftis added there is a group urging supporters of I-976 to perform an act of civil disobedience by refusing to renew their tabs until the fees are reduced. On some social media posts, would-be protesters are advised they should just tell the officer they are making a political statement and the infraction will be waived.

“That’s not the case,” Loftis said.

Officers support everyone’s right to express their opinion, Loftis noted, but they still have to follow the law.

Unless there’s a change in the court case, unrenewed December tabs will be subject to a ticket in January. By then, the patrol hopes there will be more clarity on the tab issue, he said.

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