PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a bill that would nearly triple how much the Division of Motor Vehicles charges drivers to obtain a new license plate.
The measure was introduced Friday by state Rep. Arthur “Doc” Corvese, D-North Providence, and immediately scheduled for a hearing Thursday before the House Special Legislation Committee. A spokesperson said Corvese introduced the bill at the request of Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Middletown, who is sponsoring the Senate version.
The bill proposes increasing the DMV’s fee for issuing or reissuing a “fully reflective” license plate from $6 to $15. It would also require all Rhode Island drivers renewing their registrations to get a new plate starting Dec. 1, a month earlier than mandated under current law.
The legislature’s fiscal experts say the current $6 fee for new plates would cover only about half the cost of making them, which is now estimated at over $12. DiPalma, who chaired a 2014 commission that studied the DMV, attributed that in large part to the rising cost of aluminum, particularly due to the recent imposition of tariffs.
“I don’t want to raise the fee above $6, but we’ve got to pay for what the costs of these things are,” DiPalma told WPRI 12.
While a 2009 state law ordered the DMV to issue new plates to all drivers every 10 years, lawmakers have now delayed implementation of the statute six different times, kicking it out from the initial target start date of 2011 all the way to 2020. The current “WAVE” plates were last reissued in the late 1990s.
“The time has come,” DiPalma said. “We can’t kick the can down the road anymore. People will say, well, other states aren’t doing it. I don’t care what other states aren’t doing. There’s some national standards out there that say, plates over time fade — I was behind one the other day, you couldn’t even read the numbers.”
“I don’t want people to spend more, but we’re talking $15 over 10 years,” he added.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is proposing a different approach. In her 2019-20 budget plan, she suggests eliminating the plate requirement altogether and instead stepping up enforcement of the inspection requirement that plates are visible.
“License plate reissuance creates an inconvenience for hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders who would have to mail in their old plates and pay for new ones, all while costing the state more than $6 million,” Josh Block, a spokesperson for Raimondo, said in an email. (The $6 million cost to the state would be if the fee is $6, not $15.)
“The governor has proposed improving enforcement of license plate standards during vehicle inspection as a solution that will be more consumer-friendly and cost-effective,” he said.
In a letter to the committee, DMV Director Walter “Bud” Craddock said it would cost his agency roughly $343,000 to do the software development necessary for plate reissuance. That would “come at the expense of other DMV projects, including increasing the number of online transactions available to customers,” he wrote.
Craddock also argued it would be “excessive” to order all Rhode Islanders to get new plates once a decade when the problem of bad plates affects few motorists. He noted that the more than one in four of the plates that would need to be reissued were newly issued in the last 21 months.
“The 226,762 motorists who own these plates will likely question the need to obtain new plates so soon and at an increased price,” he wrote.
Senate leaders have not yet scheduled a hearing on the measure.