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After much discussion and frustration of vehicles with expired license plates and tags — or without plates altogether — the Springfield City Council is asking for a crackdown in its 2024 legislative priorities.
The new priority was added to the list of issues the city government’s lobbyist Will Marrs will push to have addressed next year in Jefferson City. The City Council voted 8-0 to make the last minute change at the urging of Councilmember Craig Hosmer at the Nov. 6 meeting.
In addition to the taxes associated with registering and tagging a vehicle, Hosmer argued that cars without plates contributed to a public safety problem.
“If you don’t encourage people to do the right thing, you’re dealing with everybody driving illegally,” Hosmer said. “And it makes it hard for law enforcement to sort out who’s doing it for the wrong purposes versus who’s doing it for the right purposes.”
Priority asks for increase in late fees
First brought up during an October study session about the city’s legislative wish list, a priority related to vehicle license and registration didn’t make the initial list of priorities, which City Manager Jason Gage formally presented Nov. 6.
“Really, it comes down to what is really a fairly low fee that perhaps may not provide the incentive for some, we know we have mostly law abiding people, but there are some that may choose not to pay sales tax on a purchase, or perhaps not pay personal property tax or have some other reason for not renewing their tags,” Gage said.
In August, the Springfield Daily Citizen published a story on the complexities around why people may not register their vehicle or get new tags. In some instances, paying multiple tickets could be less than what people might pay in taxes for a vehicle.
Gage said that it ultimately boiled down to asking the state legislature to raise penalties for people who fail to register a vehicle and obtain tags.
The language of the proposed priority reads:
Vehicle Registration – The City of Springfield asks the State legislature to do everything possible to ensure people register and license their vehicles on time, including a significant increase in late fees.
The City Council will vote on it, along with the other legislative priorities, at its Nov. 20 meeting.
Hosmer argues from law enforcement, tax equity perspective
The Springfield City Council is set to vote on its entire package of legislative priorities on Nov. 20.
Hosmer said he gets emails “every day” from constituents who witness someone driving an unlicensed vehicle stealing packages off of peoples’ porches, and said license plate readers were of little help to police officers if there wasn’t a license plate to read.
While he acknowledged that law enforcement needed to step up in dealing with unlicensed vehicles, Hosmer said the state government needed to do a “better job” of distinguishing from people who are intentionally failing to license their vehicles for illegal purposes and individuals who have legitimate reasons, like failing to get the proper notice.
“We’re losing the eyes of our constituents, all over the city of Springfield that can’t help law enforcement solve crimes, get people that are stealing, because most people that steal aren’t stealing the first time,” Hosmer said.
While Hosmer emphasized he doesn’t want to penalize people who are struggling financially, he also sees unregistered vehicles and expired tags as a financial issue, due to the sales and property taxes that aren’t being collected and remitted to government entities and programs.
“It is a law enforcement issue in the city of Springfield, it is a tax equity issue in the city of Springfield, and it’s a funding issue for our schools, seniors, libraries and people with the developmental disabilities and I think it’s, you know, we’ve got to do a better job on a lot of things, but this is one of them,” Hosmer said.
Previous legislation could hinder movement on vehicle registration
While Gage expressed doubt any such bill would find success in the state legislature, he agreed with Hosmer’s reasoning, and added his two cents as well.
“It’s always a decent possibility, if they haven’t renewed their tags they may not have renewed their insurance as well,” Gage said. “ And that leaves others out there who may not know if they get in an accident, they may not be covered from the side that created that accident.”
Marrs is also doubtful this priority will gain traction, partly due to the fact that legislation addressing vehicle registration — Senate Bill 398 — was signed into law this year. Unlike the more aggressive approach Hosmer would like to see state lawmakers take, SB 398 gives dealerships the option to collect sales taxes, which is seen as a cost prohibitor for some people who don’t register their vehicles.
“After that point of sale bill, I think it’s less of a priority for the legislature to take up but, you know, I think other cities might want to jump on if we want to pursue legislation,” Marrs told the Springfield Daily Citizen.
While Zone 1 Councilmember Monica Horton agreed with Hosmer’s points, and ultimately voted in favor of adding vehicle registration to the city’s legislative priorities, she was also dubious that it would amount to anything, referring to it as a “symbolic statement.”
“I’m thinking, to what extent should we here locally look at, you know, coalition building around this, to strengthen the likelihood because we know very little is going to get done…so is this ‘chasing the wind’ for this coming legislative session?” Horton asked.
Horton is also concerned that state lawmakers will perceive this priority as too specific to Springfield, even if there is anecdotal evidence that it is a problem statewide, and is doubtful it will gather momentum in the Missouri General Assembly.
Hosmer conceded that it may not, but that adding it to their legislative priorities would allow them to say that they’re at least trying to address a “chronic issue” in Springfield.
The disbelief that this issue will be considered by state lawmakers was previously expressed over all of Springfield’s priorities, stemming from an “anti-city” sentiment in Jefferson City and the fact that 2024 is an election year.