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The proposal would save the state roughly $500,000 in postage and printing costs, but the measure might require expensive technology investments.
Michigan could be the next state to get rid of license plate registration stickers under proposed legislation that would save around $500,000 per year.
The bill, introduced last fall, would change the state’s vehicle code to eliminate stickers on license plates that indicate when a car’s registration expires. It would also do away with a requirement that drivers carry a physical copy of their car’s registration, instead requiring law enforcement officers to verify registration information manually.
The policy is projected to save the state roughly $500,000 per year “by eliminating costs needed to produce and mail vehicle registration tabs to drivers,” according to the bill’s fiscal analysis. The legislation would also have the bonus effect of reducing wait times at branches of the Secretary of State, where almost two-thirds of people in line are seeking to renew their car registrations, according to Rep. Matt Maddock, a Republican from Milford Township and the bill’s main sponsor.
“We have an opportunity here to solve a lot of problems for people, and to put a bunch of smiles on about 7 million drivers’ faces,” he told the House Committee on Transportation at a hearing last week.
The Michigan Department of State did not take a position on the bill, but the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and the Michigan State Police both oppose it. Sgt. Nicole McGhee, a legislative liaison with the state police, told the transportation committee that requiring law enforcement agencies to look up registrations remotely isn't always easy. Not every jurisdiction has the technology to do so, she said, and connectivity can be spotty in patrol cars.
“Having a certificate is a really good asset to have when trying to determine the validity of the plate,” she said.
Bridging that technology gap would require the “unknown but likely significant” cost of ensuring that all law enforcement agencies in the state “have the technology and connectivity access to check registration information as provided in the bill,” according to the bill’s fiscal analysis.
But the policy might also produce greater-than-anticipated savings. Connecticut ditched registration stickers in 2010 for an estimated annual savings of around $800,000, and Pennsylvania, which did away with them in 2017, saves around $3.1 million each year, with $2 million coming from mailing and postage costs alone. (Pennsylvania and Michigan, the analysis notes, have a comparable number of registered drivers.)
However, the policy in Connecticut proved confusing for drivers, and a handful of lawmakers in Pennsylvania last year introduced legislation to bring back the stickers there. At a committee hearing on the proposal last August, police groups and prosecutors told legislators that the stickers are an important tool for law enforcement.
But other groups, including the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Patrol, said that eliminating the stickers led to a sizable uptick in tickets for lapsed registrations because troopers began running all license plates through the database as a matter of procedure. The bill ultimately stalled in committee.
Maddock’s bill remains before the House transportation committee. If enacted, it would take effect in January.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.