House panel hears concerns for PA vehicle registration

HARRISBURG — Fallout from the elimination of state motor vehicle registration stickers a few years ago dominated attention Tuesday at a House Transportation Committee hearing.

The committee heard testimony on two bills that address issues stemming from the implementation of the no-sticker requirement in late 2016.

House Bill 317 sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, would restrict what law enforcement can do with data collected from new technology that helps law enforcement gather information previously on registration stickers. Automated license plate reader systems can automatically read vehicle registration plates and check that information with PennDOT and law enforcement records.

Rothman’s bill would specify who can use ALPRs, how the data can be collected and how long the data can be stored. The bill would ban the use of ALPRs for “passive surveillance.” It would also create a state grant program funded with revenue from a $25 surcharge on vehicle registration violations to help local law enforcement agencies acquire ALPRs technology.

Rothman told lawmakers there are currently no state laws or regulations governing the use of ALPRs.

House Bill 1509, sponsored by Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks, would create a new “2-in-1” vehicle sticker for state motorists showing that a vehicle has passed inspection and is registered. This sticker would be displayed on the rear license plate and replace the current inspection certificate placed on a vehicle’s windshield.

Creating this new sticker will restore law enforcement’s ability to ensure all vehicles are licensed and registered and help PennDOT recoup lost revenue, Jozwiak said.

The hearing showed that law enforcement groups generally support HB 317, but there is a difference of opinion concerning HB 1509, according to testimony presented to the committee.

The Pennsylvania State Police supports HB 317 but opposes HB 1509.

Enacting HB 317 would help law enforcement agencies collect data to solve crimes while ensuring the confidentiality of citizens’ information, said Maj. Scott Burig, director of the PSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He said there is a need to connect the various ALPRs systems used by law enforcement.

Maj. James Basinger, director of the PSP Bureau of Patrol, gave several reasons for his agency’s opposition to HB 1509. One is the removal of the inspection certificate from a vehicle’s windshield.

“Police officers in Pennsylvania commonly glance over at the windshields of vehicles passing in the opposite direction to ensure an inspection is valid,” Basinger said.

Troopers can better verify a vehicle’s registration status using Mobile Office Systems linked to PennDOT’s system than by checking a registration sticker, he said.

However, the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and Fraternal Order of Police, PA State Lodge issued statements supporting HB 1509.

“We support the increased use of ALPR technology, but we see it best used as a supplement to, not replacement of, license plate stickers,” FOP official Joseph Regan said.

“The new two-in-one sticker will enhance the ability of the trooper on the road to ensure that the motoring public is protected,” PSTA official David Kennedy said.

PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers defended the decision to eliminate the sticker requirement as he voiced opposition to HB 1509.

“The elimination of registration stickers has saved the department millions, has not negatively impacted the number of registered vehicles, has enhanced the customer experience and has not hindered the performance of law enforcement,” he said.

Supporters of HB 1509 say that PennDOT saw a significant reduction in fee revenue in 2017, but Myers said his agency’s statistics show that revenue has stayed consistent due to a number of factors. The agency has saved $7 million as a result of the move, he added.

Regarding privacy issues under HB 317, Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, questioned why law enforcement agencies should be allowed under the bill to store ALPRs data for up to one year if it’s not part of an actual investigation.

Burig said it can take time to pursue a sexual assault case or investigate a drug trafficking ring. That stored information can help identify participants, he said.

Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Hennessey, R-Montgomery, said he will take the pulse of the committee on the bills. While there seems to be agreement on HB 317, that is not the case with HB 1509, he said.