Utah House passes bill to suspend personalized plates and change new plate rules

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An inmate performs a quality check on license plates at Utah State Prison in Draper March 5, 2014. Under a bill that cleared Utah House on Tuesday, the office of the Governor of Utah would be responsible for any changes to Utah’s primary license plates. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Personalized license plates (for now), emissions test “cheats” and the way new license plates are approved may be a thing of the past, following a bill that is now halfway through the legislative process.

The Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HB368, which would shift responsibility from the legislature to the Utah governor’s office or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, the bill’s sponsor, calls it “the bill to end all license plate bills.”

The bill would also place a moratorium on all personalized plates and allow a county to require a vintage vehicle emissions inspection in certain circumstances — primarily people who use vintage plates to dodge requirements. emissions test, according to Thurston.

It passed the House on Tuesday with a 49-19 vote after passing the House Transportation Committee with a 9-1 vote on Friday.

There are three main parts to the bill; while most of it focuses on the process of creating a new license plate, the element that would be most noticeable right away is a temporary hiatus on new personal license plates for at least a year – with the ability for the Legislative Assembly to extend the moratorium each year.

The pause, which would take effect July 1 if approved, comes as three other states face lawsuits over First Amendment issues and headaches over offensive language on dinner plates, a Thurston told his colleagues in the House. His proposed solution is to shut it down altogether and wait to see how the courts rule before finding a more permanent solution.

“We don’t want a lawsuit and we don’t want the F-word or the N-word or any word on our license plates,” he said.

All existing personalized license plates approved before the proposed ban would be grandfathered. taste and whatever First Amendment requirements the courts will allow. »

Also under the bill, there would be four standard license plate designs, such as the common Delicate Arch plate. Any new standard design would start with the office of the Governor of Utah. The legislature would then approve any design through a resolution instead of the current process, which goes through committees and both houses of the legislature before it ends up on the governor’s desk for final approval.

“You’ll have to get the governor’s approval anyway, so let’s get him to do all the work right off the bat,” Thurston said, ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

The state currently has three standard plates, which means there would automatically be a new standard plate open for any major event or celebration.

Colleges, nonprofit charities, or state agencies that want to have their own special group license plates wouldn’t go through the Legislature at all. They could submit their plate designs directly to the Department of Motor Vehicles; the DMV would have the authority to grant the plates, as long as the sponsoring organization’s application is approved, they submit to the DMV at least 500 complete pre-order applications, and they pay the cost of the “start-up fee”.

During his presentation of the bill last week, Thurston said organizations already have those responsibilities when applying for a new specialty license plate.

He explained that the bill sets out those criteria in writing, which he says some lawmakers have circumvented in the past. The representative added that it would also make it more transparent to which charitable causes the money from a special license plate goes and why, would increase “fairness” in that all organizations have “equal footing” when ‘they are trying to get a special license plate’ and would reduce any burden on the legislature.

“And now we don’t have to spend time drafting, voting or reviewing these bills,” he said. “They go down to the DMV, apply with their 500 pre-orders and their check – and they get the plate. It’s as simple as that.”

The Legislative Assembly is considering bills this year that would create license plates themed around the “Utah Dark Sky” and “Live On” suicide prevention campaign. The last Legislature-approved special license plate — one honoring Martin Luther King Jr. — was approved last year after a nearly decade-long attempt by the Martin Luther Commission on Human Rights. King Jr.

With respect to the vintage license plate component, the bill is in coordination with SB51, a bill sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, to catch “cheaters” in emissions testing. Only approved collector cars or any vehicle driven less than 1,500 miles per year would be allowed to be exempt from emissions testing. Harper is listed as the Senate sponsor of HB368.

A vintage vehicle license plate is pictured during the Rumble in the Park car show at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 13, 2021. A 2021 study of the license plate program of the Utah notes that of the 74 special license plates currently in circulation, 19 receive no revenue.
A vintage vehicle license plate is pictured during the Rumble in the Park car show at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 13, 2021. A 2021 study of the license plate program of the Utah notes that of the 74 special license plates currently in circulation, 19 receive no revenue. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The bill could result in an $857,000 drop in state transportation revenue due to the extra money Utahns pay to receive personalized plates, according to a memo from the Office of Legislative Research and the General Counsel.

The note also estimates that a standard fourth plate could cost $425,000 in the future; however, the report points out that any proposed changes “are unlikely to change the regulatory burden for Utah residents or businesses.”

Thurston added during his “KSL at Night” appearance that he thinks the additional costs associated with custom plate making will help offset some of the lost revenue, as most fees are designed to “cover the cost of the program. “.

There were mixed thoughts on the floor of the House ahead of the vote. Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi, said he supports the bill because he favors anything that helps “streamline the process” for proposing new license plates.

“It’s gotten out of hand,” Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, added of the legislative process for the new special plates.

Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, opposes the bill because he said it appears there would be an “unlimited” number of specialty license plates, and he questioned the reasoning behind the moratorium on personalized license plates.

Others said they liked the direction the bill is taking, but wanted more input from colleges, organizations and agencies before moving forward.

“That seems too broad to me right now,” Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said. “I think we might be on the right track here…but I’m not sure we’re quite there.”

But with the House vote, the bill now heads to the Utah Senate. The bill was sent to the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

If approved by the Senate without any further changes by March 4, it will be sent to Governor Spencer Cox’s office for final approval.

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