Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Montco lawmaker wants to halt license plates for legislators

The license plates identify vehicles as belonging to either a state senator or state representative and include the lawmaker´s district number. Plates are also available to retired lawmakers. The cost of a plate will be rising from $20 to $76 in July. (PA Independent)
The license plates identify vehicles as belonging to either a state senator or state representative and include the lawmaker's district number. Plates are also available to retired lawmakers. The cost of a plate will be rising from $20 to $76 in July. (PA Independent)

In case Pennsylvania lawmakers need to get creative with their vanity license plates, NO1 SEN and BESTREP are still available, at least for now.

Members of the state’s General Assembly and congressional delegation could find themselves in a scrum for work-related vanity plates, thanks to a proposal from state Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery)  that would eliminate the official legislative license plates, which dozens of current and retired lawmakers flaunt on their vehicles.

Murt said he wants to introduce legislation banning the plates after constituents expressed concern they could be a “license to speed” and might make police reluctant to stop them.

“There’s really no legislative purpose for an elected official to be driving around with a special license plate,” Murt said. “You don’t get diplomatic immunity from the motor vehicle law or anything like that. At least you shouldn’t, and the mere appearance of this is an area for concern.”

While embarrassing ethical lapses within the General Assembly and state agencies have continued to grab headlines, lawmakers have been moving toward reform, such as efforts aimed at banning cash gifts.

Other changes have been simpler — making sure House members have at least a day to think over legislation before casting a final vote, for example.

Murt said his proposal is part of that push for reform, but at least one good-government activist doesn’t see the plates as a pressing problem.

Eric Epstein, founder of Rock the Capital, cracked that he has no issue with them “as long as convicted politicians sitting in prison make the license plates and politicians pay the same fee as everybody else.”

“This is a distraction from meaningful reform,” Epstein said. “Pennsylvanians want to revoke the Legislature’s license to plunder, rob and steal from taxpayers.”

Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democratic Caucus, said it’s not a matter that’s been on the members’ minds, but he understood why some people might see a chance that lawmakers could get a free pass on the road.

“I have not heard of those concerns before, but I suppose that might come to somebody’s mind,” Patton said.

Officially, though, the plates don’t give lawmakers special privileges. Judging by the number of legislators who complain about parking tickets in Harrisburg, the plates haven’t proven to be a perk, said Steve Miskin, a House GOP spokesman.

Murt, though, said he’s heard at least one first-hand account of a sitting legislator bragging after evading a ticket by flashing his legislative ID.

The plates identify vehicles as belonging to either a state senator or state representative and include the lawmakers’ district numbers. Plates are also available to retired lawmakers, though Murt said that term is ambiguous, considering somebody could have been voted out of office instead of leaving on his or her own volition.

Thirty state senators and 48 state representatives use the legislative license plates, while another 52 retired lawmakers have them, said Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Like other vanity plates, the legislative license plates cost $20. That price will jump to $76 in July as part of a sweeping transportation funding bill passed last year.

No lawmakers who have the plates now would be grandfathered in under the proposal, said Murt, who does not have one. He wants the legislation to pass, but he’s not optimistic.

“It has not gotten a real warm reception from some of my colleagues,” Murt said. “They have the license plates, they like them and it may be a piece of legislation that they are not going to embrace warmly.”

Andrew Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.

Andrew Staub PA INDEPENDENT
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