Originally Published: December 27, 2017 6:02 a.m.
PHOENIX — Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita says it isn’t the purpose behind her legislation, but the Scottsdale Republican is proposing to eliminate one of the things police can use as an excuse to stop and question motorists: those metallic tags affixed to license plates that show whether a vehicle’s registration is expired.
What is behind it, she said, is money.
“If we get rid of it, we could realize a savings of $1.8 million,” Ugenti-Rita said. That includes not just printing up the tiny labels but, in many cases, the cost of mailing them out.
The stickers are the most visible indicator of current registration. That is particularly true in a state such as Arizona where a motorist can keep the same license plate a decade or more -- literally until it’s no longer readable according to the state Department of Transportation.
“Is that enough to justify incurring costs that otherwise we, as a state, don’t need to?” Ugenti-Rita asked.
More to the point, she said nothing in HB 2054 eliminates the legal requirement for motorists to keep their vehicle registrations current — or the civil fines that can be imposed on those who do not.
The question, then, becomes enforcement. But Ugenti-Rita said it’s not like those tags are the only way for officers to determine if a car being followed is registered.
“They could run their license plate,” she said. “If it came up the person had expired registration, they could decide if they wanted to pull over that individual or not.”
And Ugenti-Rita said it’s not like what she’s proposing is so radical.
“It’s kind of no difference than insurance,” she said.
Arizona requires motorists to carry so-called “15-30-10” minimum liability coverage: $15,000 to cover the injuries to any single individual, $30,000 for all injuries in any accident, and $10,000 to cover property damage, normally repairs to another vehicle.
“We don’t have a car insurance sticker,” Ugenti-Rita pointed out.
“If you’re pulled over, you’re asked for your registration and (proof of) car insurance,” she continued. “You supply it to the officer.”
That proof to show current registration on demand would remain under her legislation.
Under her plan, ADOT would issue a registration card electronically, emailing it to the owners who, in turn, would be required to print it out and keep it in the vehicle.
And those who don’t have Internet access or a printer? They could request the card be mailed to them.
So if registration remains a requirement, with or without her bill, Ugenti-Rita said that leaves only a single issue: that $1.8 million estimated cost.
The savings to the state stem from the fact that the registration fees are set by statute and would not be changed by HB 2054. The only thing that changes is the state’s obligation — and cost — to produce them.
“This sticker doesn’t really yield enough benefit to continue to kind of justify having it,” she said.
Nor is Ugenti-Rita concerned that she is eliminating the ability of an officer to use the fact a vehicle has an expired sticker as justification for a traffic stop. She said the sole purpose of that tag is solely to verify current registration.
“If it’s being used for other purposes, (I’m) not sure that’s an excuse to keep it when the state could realize a significant amount of cost savings,” she said.
The absence of those tags could have implications beyond law enforcement.
Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said the visibility of those tags makes compliance with the legal requirement to register the vehicle — and send in the fees — much more likely.
“Some people would probably skirt around it and not do it and then take their chances on not getting stopped,” said Campbell who chairs the House Transportation Committee and who has been behind multiple efforts to increase the amount of dollars going into the Highway User Revenue Fund that pays for new road construction and repairs to existing ones.
Neither the Department of Publ ic Safety nor ADOT would comment about the proposal.
The idea is not unique.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation stopped issuing such annual stickers last year. And PennDOT reports that New Jersey and Connecticut have been without the tabs for years.