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Street legal: Ranker bill would expand use of electric vehicles in the San Juans; increased registration fee could follow

Top photo: Brad Pillow behind the wheel of his Zap pickup truck, in May 2008. The truck weighs almost a ton, carries up to 300 pounds, goes 45 mph with a range of 40 miles per charge. Bottom photo, the sidewalls and tailgate fold down to accommodate bulkier loads. A state Senate bill would lower the speed limit for slower electric vehicles in San Juan County. - Richard Walker / file photo
Top photo: Brad Pillow behind the wheel of his Zap pickup truck, in May 2008. The truck weighs almost a ton, carries up to 300 pounds, goes 45 mph with a range of 40 miles per charge. Bottom photo, the sidewalls and tailgate fold down to accommodate bulkier loads. A state Senate bill would lower the speed limit for slower electric vehicles in San Juan County.
— image credit: Richard Walker / file photo

Legislation proposed by Sen. Kevin Ranker and unanimously approved by the Senate Wednesday evening would expand the use of neighborhood electronic vehicles (NEVs) for residents of San Juan County.

Senate Bill 6346 would allow residents of San Juan County to operate NEVs and medium-speed electronic vehicles on town streets and county roads that are not state routes, provided the road has a speed limit of 45 mph or less. The bill is specific to the San Juan Islands.

State law previously would not permit these vehicles on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less.

“Some people who own NEVs want to get from their home to a grocery store, but they cannot make the trip because they would have driven on a road with a speed limit of 45 mph for a couple of miles,” said Ranker, D-San Juan Island. “This allows them to make that short trip.”

The bipartisan bill cleared the Senate on a 47-0 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has introduced a bill that would impose an additional $100 registration fee on electric vehicles to make up for a decline in gas tax. Motor vehicle fuel tax is the primary source of funding for the state's transportation system.

"As the state's fleet changes from motor vehicles powered by traditional sources, such as gasoline and diesel, to those powered by electricity, the ability of the state to fund the maintenance and preservation of the transportation system is compromised," Senate Bill 6377 states. "In order to mitigate the impacts of the diminishing motor vehicle fuel tax, and to create a system where each driver pays for a fair portion of his or her use of his or her use of the road," an additional fee would be imposed on electric vehicle registration.

The additional fee is expected to generate nearly $1.5 million by 2019, according to a legislative fiscal analysis.

SB 6377 was approved Jan. 27 by the Senate Committee on Transportation. It is now before the Senate Rules Committee.

— Online: Senate Bill 6377

— Online: May 21, 2008 SanJuanJournal.com story, "Electric pickup is a real charge (cost of driving isn't bad either)"

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