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Ohio House Takes Up Bill Banning Towing 'Spotters'

Greg Gjerdingen

In Columbus, private towing companies hauled away more than 1,000 vehicles in February alone. Those companies already have numerous requirements they need to meet before towing a car, but a state lawmaker from Northeast Ohio is pushing for one additional provision.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Ohio House will take up a measure from state Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) prohibiting towing companies from using so-called "spotters" to alert them to illegally parked cars.

Patton's proposal comes after an investigation from the Cleveland ABC station highlighting spotters near the West Side Market, a popular public market with more than 100 vendors.

“People shouldn’t park where they’re not supposed to park, so we’re not making excuses for that,” Patton explains, “but it seems predatory that you actually employ a guy in that particular sense.”

In Columbus, Tim Duffey of Shamrock Towing says paying look-outs isn’t a common enough practice to merit passing a law.

“I really don’t believe it’s widespread enough to do that,” Duffey says. “So it’s not like it’s going on all the time. And you know from what I read in the article, it’s about somebody picked up on an article that’s almost a year old.”

Duffey sees nothing improper with using spotters, although his business doesn’t do so. Other towing companies in Columbus said they’re busy enough as is.

Patton admits he doesn’t know how frequently towers in Ohio are using spotters, but he still feels it’s good policy.

“Regardless if it’s only an issue in Cleveland or if it’s only an issue somewhere else, if it’s wrong, you still need to fix it, you know?” Patton says.

He adds that committee hearings will likely shed light on how prevalent spotters are.

Ohio's Association of Professional Towers opposes the use of spotters, but officials with the organization want to ensure the measure won’t unintentionally burden towing companies or the property owners who contract with them.

The proposal doesn’t have a Senate sponsor. But Patton, a former Ohio Senate majority leader, says he’s confident he can find a partner.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.