12/6/2011Texas License Plates Become Optional
Texas legislature accidentally deletes penalty for failing to display a license plate.
A number of special interest groups have fought over the design of specialty license plates in Texas over the past few weeks. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People cheered the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) board last month for rejecting a "Sons of Confederate Veterans" plate the group found racially offensive. An American Indian group blasted a plate honoring the Buffalo Soldiers, a regiment of black troops who served in the US Army from the end of the Civil War through 1951. These plate conflicts may turn out to be unnecessary because beginning on January 1, 2012, the use of license plates in the Lone Star State becomes optional.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, current law mandates the display of two license plates -- one at the front and another at the rear of a vehicle. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $200 fine under Texas Code Section 502.404. As part of a sweeping revision of the state vehicle code, however, that provision will soon disappear.
House Bill 2357 was intended as a non-controversial 234-page update to existing law. It passed the state House on May 29 voted 139-6 and the state Senate 31-0, receiving the signature of Governor Rick Perry (R) on June 17.
"The motor vehicle statutes were codified in 1995, but there has not been a complete reorganization of substance since before that time," Representative Joseph Pickett (D-El Paso) wrote in his justification of the legislation. "This bill directly addresses the problem of the statutes being outdated in regard to automation and organization."
As part of the update, the new law deleted the license plate statute, returning parts of it to Section 502.473 and 504.943. In moving around the legal language, the bill went through the entire legislative process without anybody noticing that a key line was deleted without providing a replacement: "An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200."
Without the line, it is not clear whether police officers or courts would have the authority to impose a punishment on drivers who chose not to display license plates or registration stickers, especially in jurisdictions that still use red light cameras. Driving with a false or altered plate remains a misdemeanor, however. Lawmakers will not have a chance to remedy their mistake until January 8, 2013 when the legislature reconvenes, unless Governor Perry calls a special session specifically to address the license plate issue.
A copy of the legislation as enacted is available in a 650k PDF file at the source link below.