An Arizona state Senate committee voted 4-2 on Tuesday to continue, for now, the practice of allowing police to pull over and fine motorists who use certain types of license plate frames. State Senators Jay Tibshraeny (R-Chandler) and Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) had unsuccessfully introduced legislation to gut a state law that took effect in January. ”A person shall maintain each license plate so it is clearly legible and so that the name of this state at the top of the license plate is not obscured,” Arizona Code Section 28-2354 states. Although the distinctive colors and cactus designs of Arizona’s basic plates are readily identifiable to the human eye, visibility of the state name is important for the optical character recognition software used by photo enforcement companies.
Motorists run afoul of this law if even a tiny portion of the word “Arizona” is covered by a frame and are subject to being stopped and searched and a $200 ticket imposed. Tibshraeny and Verschoor had sought to eliminate the practice and give police only the power to issue warnings. The Senate Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt Committee, however, insisted on collecting fine revenue.
In Texas, a similar license plate law became controversial when cities like Houston planned to raise $1.4 million in revenue with license plate citations. The Texas legislature eventually reduced the penalty to $10.
In Arizona’s lower chamber, a competing license plate reform proposal, House Bill 2010, was given preliminary approval earlier this year. The bill’s sponsor, state Representative Bill Konopnicki (R-Safford), sought to eliminate the language about partially covering up the state’s name, which he saw as the heart of the legislative problem.
“I’m not sure that there should be any fine,” Konopnicki said in February.
Konopnicki was concerned that the statute as written would be misused to create probable cause for searches that would not otherwise exist. He claimed that he had received 4000 emails in support of his legislation, but the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could not give up on the idea of imposing a fine. It rewrote Konopnicki’s bill to make covering up any portion of the state name a secondary offense carrying a $30 fine.
Such fines could be easily added to a photo radar or red light camera ticket under a “secondary violations” clause in the photo enforcement contract for cities like Phoenix. The amended proposal would still have to clear both the full House and Senate before being sent to the governor