New license plate

Jerome Hintz, of Mandan, holds the new North Dakota license plate he received on the first day of its issue in 2015 outside the Department of Transportation in Bismarck on Thursday. Hintz, 69, said he was replacing the aging and now discontinued Lewis & Clark plate on his Chevy. "It was kind of due," he said, noting the numbering was easy to remember.

Two license plates or not two license plates? That was the question weighed Thursday by the House Transportation Committee.

Committee members gave House Bill 1084 a “do pass” recommendation to the full House by an 8-6 vote.

Opponents to single license plates included gas station and convenience store owners, who said not having a front license plate could make it more difficult to catch gas station drive-offs and other thefts.

Lawmakers in support of HB1084 said one benefit of only having a rear license plate would make the process of installing plates easier.

Nineteen states require one license plate, according to the most recent data from AAA.

Larry Froelich, director of retail operations for Missouri Valley Petroleum, urged the committee for a “do not pass” recommendation.

Froelich said gas stations may average one or two drive-offs per day and, while some are accidental and dealt with quickly, such incidents can lead to a significant dollar impact to businesses over time. He estimated from 70 percent to 80 percent of drive-offs are dealt with through law enforcement or a case of accidental nonpayment. 

“While we have invested large sums of money in video surveillance equipment in an attempt to stop drive-offs, it’s still very difficult to help law enforcement apprehend a gas thief if there is no front license plate showing up on video surveillance,” Froelich said.

Prime bill sponsor Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, said, in addition to the hassle for vehicle owners, not everyone bothers installing front plates despite the risk of getting a ticket. He added that law enforcement, in some parts of the state, are not active in enforcing the license plate law.

On his drive from Grand Forks to Bismarck for the session, he said he saw nine cars without front license plates: seven were North Dakota vehicles.

“The law just doesn’t penetrate society,” Owens said.

Bruce Burkett, with the North Dakota Peace Officers Association, agreed with Froelich.

Burkett said a front license plate is often an officer’s first contact with a person as they pass a parked police vehicle or when officers arrive at a residence. Officers can more easily determine if a vehicle is one to be watching for if there are front plates, for example.

“It certainly makes the efficiency of the officer much better,” Burkett said.

Bills to go from two plates to one have been defeated in past sessions.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)