For years, Missouri drivers have complained about other motorists behind the wheel of vehicles with expired temporary license tags — those paper license plates issued by auto dealers to car buyers.
The sponsor of a new state law taking effect Aug. 28 hopes it helps deal with the problem.
The measure requires people to turn in the temporary paper tags to a state license office when they show up to get their permanent plates and pay sales tax on their newly purchased vehicle.
“We must start somewhere and this was the first step,” said state Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, who succeeded in getting the measure through the Legislature in May.
The measure, added to a lengthy bill dealing with various transportation issues, aims to keep temporary tags — which are valid for just 30 days — from showing up illegally on another vehicle.
Police over the years have said forgers sometimes use markers to change numbers on the expiration date or use copiers and printers to produce fake tags.
Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said misuse and fraudulent use of temporary tags has been an issue across the state.
Anne Marie Moy, a spokeswoman for the revenue department, called the law “a positive step.” To publicize the new requirement, she said, the department plans to include information on it with materials issued with the temporary tags.
However, Moy said, the new law neither requires nor allows the department to refuse to issue a plate if a temporary tag isn’t turned in.
That fact leads former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch to predict that the legislation won’t have much effect.
“The law-abiding people will follow the law,” said Fitch, now a Republican candidate for the County Council. But he said those who don’t want to turn in temp tags won’t do so once they find out plates will be issued anyway.
Fitch and Baringer both said a key reason driving with temporary tags past their expiration date has increased was the Legislature’s passage in 2015 of an overhaul of municipal court practices which critics said preyed on the poor.
Among other things, that law says people can be fined no more than $300 for traffic offenses and cities can’t add on an extra “failure to appear” charge because an offender misses a court date.
Fitch and Baringer said more people ignore tickets because there are no consequences for failing to show up for their court date.
To provide an incentive to do so, she is looking at possible legislation to waive court costs when people ticketed for expired temporary tags go ahead and pay their sales tax, buy the required insurance and get plates. She said judges already don’t issue fines in many such cases.
She also wants to try to steer more car buyers to get financing through certain credit unions which roll car insurance costs into the loan.
And she wants to encourage more companies to provide MetroLink and bus passes to employees so they won’t buy cars without having the money for ancillary costs such as insurance.
She said those steps could help deal with “overburdened” people who drive too long on temporary tags while trying to save up to pay their sales tax and for insurance needed to get permanent plates.
But she said the 2015 law also ended up allowing what she calls a “I don’t care” segment of the population who simply are taking advantage of a loophole. She says she is working on how to determine a consequence for such violators.
Fitch, meanwhile, proposes that the Legislature require dealers to collect the sales tax and issue plates at the time of sale, eliminating the need for most temporary tags. Baringer says she and others are looking at that idea as well.