State right to explore sticker shock

It has been about three years since Pennsylvania stopped requiring annual license plate stickers on vehicles as a means for confirming up-to-date registration.

Evaluation of new policies or programs is important after they’ve been in effect for a while. Therefore, the scrutiny currently being accorded the decision to eliminate the stickers in question is a worthwhile exercise.

A Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee hearing on Aug. 13 provided a glimpse of opinions that have evolved since the sticker requirement ended.

Some of what those opinions have entailed are the basis for two legislative measures, House Bills 317 and 1509, that could be the subject of action by lawmakers in the weeks ahead.

Both measures seem to be well-thought-out and reasonable, but, based on discussion at the Aug. 13 hearing, it appears that “317” has a greater chance for passage than “1509,” due in large part to state police concerns about the latter.

In the big picture, a significant question lingers, however: Has the state lost more money as a result of eliminating stickers than what was saved by not having to produce stickers and mail them to vehicle owners?

What always will remain unknown is how much money the state has lost over the past three years due to motorists who drove unregistered vehicles that went undetected because an up-to-date sticker did not have to be displayed.

Numerous local-level police departments aren’t equipped with the automated license plate readers that the state police now use to show whether a vehicle has a current registration.

As is generally known, state police don’t have the manpower to ensure that every vehicle on the road is registered properly.

Municipal officials oftentimes complain about unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments. On the issue of license plate readers, complaints seem justified as well.

Due to their economic conditions or limited tax base, there are numerous municipalities unable to scrape together enough money to buy the readers anytime soon.

The state has fallen short by not helping local-level police departments buy readers so those departments can work hand-in-hand with the state police to keep unregistered vehicles off the roads.

During discussion about House Bill 317 at the Aug. 13 transportation committee session, it was pointed out the measure, which would set limits on what law enforcement can do with data collected from the new technology, includes a provision to get readers into the hands of local departments via a grant program.

The grants would be funded from a logical source — a $25 surcharge on vehicle registration violations.

Therefore, there is reader hope for some smaller police departments. However, there are many municipalities across the commonwealth that don’t have a police department and therefore can do nothing about keeping unregistered vehicles off the highways.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1509, which is not being as warmly greeted as “317,” aims to create a new “2-in-1” sticker for license plates showing that a vehicle has passed inspection and is registered.

That new license plate sticker would eliminate the current inspection certificate placed on a vehicle’s windshield after the vehicle has passed its annual inspection.

State officials have three years’ experience on which to base final decisions, but how long it will take lawmakers to reach that point is anyone’s guess.


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