California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday requiring that newly purchased vehicles display temporary license plates, approving the bill despite objections from social justice activists who say it will lead to more fines and economic hardships for poor people.
The bill aimed to stop toll-road cheats and ensure law enforcement officers can identify vehicles on the road. California currently requires only a small notice of sale, which can't be read or photographed from a distance, to be displayed on a vehicle while the owner is waiting for permanent plates.
The bill (AB516) by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a Democrat from South San Francisco, will require car dealers to put a temporary license plate on a vehicle when they sell it, beginning in 2019. Altering the expiration date would be a crime, with an option for prosecutors to decide whether to charge as a misdemeanor or felony.
Mullin estimates that vehicles without license plates that skip tolls on roads and bridges cost the state $15 million a year.
Consumer and civil rights advocates worry it will significantly increase the number of people who receive fines for paperwork violations, because it would be easier for police to spot expired temporary plates. They also worry people will be fined if their permanent license plates don't arrive on time due to mistakes by dealers or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Critics warn that fines for registration violations could subject low-income drivers who can't afford the fines to a cascading series of court fines and late fees.
"It is blatantly unjust, and a waste of state resources, to penalize consumers by making it illegal for them to drive their own cars, when they have not received their permanent license plates within the 90-day deadline due to circumstances beyond their control," Rosemary Shahan, president of the advocacy group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, wrote in a letter urging Brown to veto the bill.
That can happen, she said, when dealers don't submit paperwork, go out of business, or sell vehicles with unpaid liens or tickets.
The legislation protects people from fines if they can prove they've submitted registration paperwork to the DMV, but Shahan and other critics say the protection isn't strong enough.