Transition to gold state vehicle plates progressing
CHARLESTON — A historic transition from green to gold license plates for state vehicles has gone relatively smoothly, the lead sponsor of legislation enacting the change said Wednesday.
“It’s nearly complete,” House Government Organization Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said of the Division of Motor Vehicles’ transition from green state vehicle plates to a gold plate with blue lettering — a change mandated by Jan. 1.
“There’s probably a few stragglers out there,” he said of indications that some agencies had not received new plates for their vehicle fleets yet.
As part of a seemingly eternal quest to determine exactly how many vehicles the state owns, the legislation passed in the 2018 regular session requires agencies to apply for the new gold plates, providing the vehicle identification number for each vehicle to be licensed.
Howell said about 40 VINs were claimed by two different agencies, with one possible reason for the duplication being that the vehicles had been transferred to a new agency without ever being removed from the old agency’s vehicle list.
Howell said he hopes the new system will provide an accurate count of the vehicles in the state fleet.
“I’m hoping to have that up by the middle of the session,” he said of the 60-day 2019 regular session of the Legislature, which begins Jan. 9.
Getting a precise handle on how many vehicles the state owns has proved elusive over the years, in part because many state agencies are exempt from state fleet management regulations.
Because the old green state vehicle license plates had no expiration dates, it was impossible to verify which plates were actually in use — and probably also encouraged abuse, Howell said.
After the legislation for the new plates passed (House Bill 4015), Howell noted that the state received a bill from the New Jersey Turnpike for a vehicle with a green state plate that had been photographed going through a toll plaza without paying.
He said research determined that the vehicle in question had been sold by the state as surplus in 1996.
“We’ve heard about green tags for sale on Ebay,” Howell said, pointing out that as long as the bogus plates were affixed to vehicles commonly used in the state fleet, law enforcement would have no reason to suspect they were being used illegally.
“We figure there’s probably still a few of those out there that are going to get caught,” he said.
Under the new law, all green state license plates are considered expired as of Jan. 1 and subject to a $100 fine and court costs.
Conversely, Howell said a driver reported seeing a box van with a green state tag on Interstate 81 near the Pennsylvania/New York line. He said it was determined to be from West Virginia University, returning engines loaned to the School of Engineering.
Unlike the green plates, the new state plates have two-year registrations, and the registrations will have to be renewed like other license plates.
Howell said the initial applications for new plates, along with biennial renewal data, should give the state a precise count of just how many vehicles the state owns.
Howell, meanwhile, said he’s noticed a number of new gold plates on state vehicles in the Eastern Panhandle.
“At least in my area, it looks like it’s going according to plan,” he said.