The state House Transportation Committee is considering a bill to reinstate those little vehicle registration stickers on Pennsylvania license plates.
But the bill proposed by State Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R., Berks) would do more than reinstate the registration sticker. Critics say it would overhaul the system by establishing a combination inspection-registration sticker that would be placed on license plates, requiring owners to have an inspection before they can register their vehicles rather than keeping them separate transactions.
The state eliminated the registration sticker requirement in January 2017 as part of a transportation funding bill approved in 2014. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the move would save $3.1 million annually in the cost of producing the stickers and mailing them to vehicle owners.
A hearing before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday brought out officials on both sides of the issue: police groups and prosecutors who say the stickers are an important law enforcement tool, and PennDot and state police supervisors who say there is no reason to change.
Jozwiak, who is not a member of the committee, introduced a similar bill during the last legislative session that passed the House but never came up for a vote in the Senate. He is a retired state trooper.
PennDot registered 234,000 fewer vehicles the first year without stickers, indicating that motorists were purposely dodging the requirement because they knew it would be hard to catch them, Jozwiak testified Tuesday. Rather than saving by eliminating production costs for the stickers, he said, PennDot has lost more than $33 million due to unregistered vehicles.
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the state Fraternal Order of Police, and the state District Attorneys Association want the sticker back because it give them a legitimate reason to stop a vehicle that doesn’t have one, Jozwiak said. They often find other criminal activity when they make registration stops, he said.
“We tried it the other way, and it hasn’t worked,” Jozwiak said after the hearing. “It’s costing too much money. Let’s go back to what works.”
Maj. James Basinger, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Patrol, said that initially he was against eliminating registration stickers. But since they have been gone, he said, troopers routinely run license plates through the state database to make sure a vehicle has been registered rather than relying on a sticker that could be fraudulent.
As a result, Basinger said, the number of citations for unregistered vehicles has increased 52 percent, a sign that checking license plates provides results that are “more accurate and real-time status.” In addition, removing the inspection sticker from the front windshields of vehicles would “remove an observatory tool” that police are used to looking for, he said.
Kurt Myers, PennDot’s deputy secretary for driver and vehicle services, defended eliminating the stickers, which also has been done in New Jersey and Connecticut. He said higher registration figures from 2010 to 2016 were the result of the country’s coming out of an economic recession and attributed the lower numbers after the sticker was eliminated to normal fluctuation.
In addition, he said, the proposed system would make it more difficult for vehicle owners to complete their registration online because the vehicle inspection would come first.
“Numbers change daily,” Myers said, and the year-end numbers are “a point in time.”
“One of the things I haven’t heard about today is, what about the customer? The truth is, 99% of our customers are truthful and honest about registering their vehicles, and the others are not going to do it whether there’s a sticker or not.”