A Seattle state lawmaker proposes capping towing-company rates.

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OLYMPIA — It didn’t take long for state lawmakers to jump into the fray over how much towing companies should charge for their services.

In his first piece of legislation introduced, newly minted Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, is sponsoring a bill that would cap towing charges — a move some members of the towing industry say they will oppose.

The issue erupted late last year after Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote about a Seattle man who was charged nearly $800 for a single tow.

“It affects so many people,” said Pollet, who was appointed to the state House by the Metropolitan King County Commission to fill a vacancy in North Seattle’s 46th Legislative District. “People just shouldn’t be held hostage.”

Pollet replaced former Rep. David Frockt, who moved up to the state Senate to replace Scott White, who died in October from heart problems.

House Bill 2372 would put a $250 cap for a tow and the first 24 hours of storage. Pollet said the charge should be less if a car is stored for a shorter period of time.

Chris Swanicke got hit with an $800 bill when his Mazda truck, which was parked illegally at his Capitol Hill apartment building, was towed last November by Citywide Towing.

“No one expects to pay a month’s rent” for a tow, Pollet said.

Tow companies are required to post rates with the state Department of Licensing, but the state has no power to approve or disapprove them. The highest rate for a registered tow-truck company in King County is $650 per hour, but most are in the range of $250 per hour.

Under the bill, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission would set maximum fees, which would vary depending on the location in the state. Towing likely would cost more in Seattle than, say, Lacey, where storage space is cheaper.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission already sets rates for moving companies and has expertise it could tap, Pollet said. However, he said he’s open to having the Department of Licensing regulate towing firms.

Al Runté, owner of Ibsen Towing and co-chair of Towing and Recovery Association of Washington King County District, said the proposed cap could hurt the towing industry at a time when the economy is still struggling.

“We as an industry are against a regulation,” Runté said.

He said his organization represents about 150 of the 400 tow-truck operators registered in the state.

Runté said he isn’t sure whether lawmakers would pass the bill this session, considering everything on their plate.

“This is a really difficult bill to push through during a 60-day session,” he said.

But Rolly Wandler, owner of Able Towing in Seattle, said he supports regulation, adding there are a handful of “pirate companies” that are bad actors in the industry.

Even Naser Quadeer, manager of Citywide Towing — the firm that charged the $800 tow — said he supports a $250 cap.

“Two hundred and fifty dollars is fine,” he said. “That’s fair.”

Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.

Stephanie Kim: 360-236-8266 or skim@seattletimes.com