6/18/2007Houston, Texas Profits from Repealed License Plate Law
Police in Houston, Texas hope to generate $1.4 million in revenue by enforcing a law that the state legislature has revoked.
Police in Houston, Texas issued $931,000 in tickets this year to motorists for the crime of using a frame on their license plate, often one supplied by a car dealer. Of this amount, $231,000 was raised after Governor Rick Perry (R) signed a law overturning a February Texas Appeals Court interpretation (read opinion) of state law that gave police authority to issue the citations. Because the new law does not go into effect until September 1, Houston police believe that they have a green light to collect up until the deadline.
"It's the law, and it's our job not to interpret but to follow," Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt told the Houston Chronicle newspaper. "When that law takes effect in September, then we will abide by the changes."
At the current pace, Houston police expect to collect another $450,000 in revenue from the citations. A single officer, Matthew Davis, is responsible for a large share of the revenue. Davis this year issued 1216 license plate tickets at a rate of up to 30 a day. Police rewarded his ticket-writing skill with $162,000 in overtime bonuses since 2004.
Houston police cite motorists for other expired laws as well. Davis issued a ticket to Tammy Ayers, 38, for having a license plate frame as well as driving without corrective lenses. Ayers had laser eye surgery and has perfect vision. The legislature passed a second bill to close the eye surgery loophole, but it too does not take effect until September. The measure (read bill) also reduces the penalty for the license plate offense to $10 and eliminates the six-month jail sentence imposed on a "knowing" offender of either statute.
Texas state police have a different view of the license plate "crime." The agency has only issued warnings, aside from just 91 citations for an obscured plate statewide this year. The Houston Chronicle asked Chief Hurtt about whether the mayor has been cited for having a license plate frame on his official Lincoln Town Car.
"We have discretion, and we use discretion," Hurtt said. "In this case, we use discretion."