- The proposed Michigan HB 5250 would get rid of the annual colored stickers that say when a Michigan license plate expires, but it's a long way from passing.
- Other states have changed their policies on annual stickers, but some drivers are confused by the new systems, and trying to understand if the changes save or cost money is up in the air.
- In Michigan, the House Fiscal Agency says HB 5250 will have "an indeterminate fiscal impact" given the challenges of making registration data easy to access for law enforcement and state park employees.
You used to be able to identify which cars supported Michigan's state parks by the tall line of stickers on their windshields. Then, the information moved to the license-plate tag on the back of the car. And now it might just have to live in the cloud.
That's due to a new bill proposed in the state legislature by state Rep. Matt Maddock, a "Let's Make Michigan Great Again" Republican, and co-sponsored by six House Republicans. The proposal, House Bill 5250, would change the way law enforcement checks the registration of a vehicle. Instead of looking at the sticker or asking for a registration form that's kept in the car, officers would need to use the Law Enforcement Information Network (L.E.I.N.) to see if the car is registered.
Maddock first proposed the bill in November 2019, and the nonpartisan Michigan House Fiscal Agency released a legislative analysis of the bill's costs and benefits this week. If it passes and becomes law, the bill would take effect January 1, 2021. Neither he nor the Michigan House Democrats returned Car and Driver's request for comment about the chance of passage of this bill.
Other states have realized that updating those little stickers each year is not the best way to spend resources or time. Pennsylvania eliminated license tags at the end of 2016, estimating it would taxpayers $1.1 million per year and save the state an additional $2 million since it's not paying for all the stickers to be mailed out. Pennsylvania puts the money saved in the state's Motor License Fund, which gets invested in local roadways and bridges.
In 2010, the Connecticut DMV requested the state legislature to allow, rather than require, the agency to issue registration stickers, saying that it would save $800,000 a year in mailing costs because the agency could just send one letter to people with vehicle registrations rather than two. In 2014 and 2015, state lawmakers proposed returning to a two-mailing system, but those bills died in committee despite constituents saying they were confused by the new system.
It's not clear if Michigan would see similar financial benefits, despite there being about the same number of registered drivers in the Mitten State as in Pennsylvania. The nonpartisan Michigan House Fiscal Analysis group would not say whether it believed Maddock's proposal would result in an indirect decrease in revenue to the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) if the "elimination of visible registration plate tabs encourages some drivers to drive with an expired registration." Also, the costs of integrating the Michigan Department of State's database with the the state Department of Natural Resources was not determined, but that is one option for DNR officers to know if a vehicle has a paid recreation passport fee, which allows entry into the state park system. This information is currently printed on the license tags.
The HFA also says there could be "an indeterminate fiscal impact" to local law enforcement agencies, since "it is unlikely that all law enforcement agencies in the state have the technology and connectivity access to check registration information as provided in the bill. The cost to ensure that all agencies could perform this function is currently unknown but would likely be significant."
In late 2019, Pennsylvania Republicans proposed a bill that would bring license-plate tags back, in part based on support from state police groups who said the stickers are important to law enforcement officers.