Legislative Report: License plate laws are on your mind


Constituent services have always been the primary focus for me while serving as your State Representative. I receive many emails, snail mails, and phone calls regarding many of the bills that may or may not come before me that ask for my support or ask me to oppose certain bills that the House may bring to the floor for action. Many of you will contact me asking for help in negotiating the intricacies of the various state agencies that serve the citizens of my legislative district. 

Recently I have received many inquiries about vehicle license plates such as “Do I need a front plate?” or “Can I cover my front plate with a plate from my favorite sports team, car dealership, fraternal organization, etc.?” Another question often asked, “Why do we need two plates, can we eliminate the front plate and save the state money?”  The most recent question has been “Why did the police issue me a warning or a ticket for a covered or missing license plate?” 

There are many other inquiries concerning license plate laws. I’ll try to briefly answer these questions here and if you have further questions, please e-mail me for ongoing discussions.

Title 23 of the Vermont Statutes subchapter 5 section 511 clearly states the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles may require one or two plates and if two plates are furnished, one must be securely attached to the front and one to the rear of the vehicle, if one plate is furnished it shall be securely fastened to the rear of the vehicle. The plate shall be kept entirely unobstructed, and the numbers and letters shall be plainly legible at all times. 

What this all means is that you cannot legally cover your front plate with any other plate including your favorite sports team, service organization, vehicle dealership and the like, to do so violates 23 VSA section 511(a) and thus subjects a person to a violation of Vermont laws. The only exception to this law is the current “Vermont Strong” commemorative license plate. This exception has been authorized by legislative action in bill number H.839…The Budget Adjustment Act, which also provides that when displaying the commemorative plate, the front registration plate shall not be removed. 

  To the question of “Why do we need 2 license plates?”. In the interest of public safety and at the request of the Department of Public Safety, the legislature has determined that a front plate is necessary for the traveling public’s safety, therefore after hours and hours of testimony on the subject of two license plates over the recent years, legislators have decided any savings that might be gained by not issuing a front license plate are outweighed by the need to protect the motoring public.

Finally, the answer to the question “Why did the police issue me a ticket or warning that I have a covered or missing license plate?” is you have violated Vermont law by covering or removing your front license plate. I hope this lengthy explanation helps you in understanding one of the many Vermont motor vehicle laws we deal with every day!

In floor action this week the House debated and passed a public safety bill that I have been waiting for and tracking since the beginning of this session. H.534…An act relating to retail theft. This bill is one of many that attempt to hold people that continually commit misdemeanor retail theft of under $900 more responsible for their actions. The legislation provides that a person “who commits more than one retail theft in one or more locations within a 14-day period and within a single county shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years or both if the aggregate retail value of the merchandise is taken away exceeds $900.” To translate the legislative language, this means if a person commits retail theft of $900 or less in one day but commits another theft for a few more dollars within 14 days, this crime now becomes a felony offense. We’ve been calling this “stacking” the crimes to create a felony and the intent is to curb the onslaught of retail theft with no penalty or responsibility by the person committing the crime. This bill is just another step to adjust the statutes on larceny and other public safety issues.

Questions, comments, please send me an e-mail at bshaw@leg.state.vt.us or call at 802-483-2398 for a conversation about our legislative district of Rutland-8 Pittsford-Proctor.

Representative Butch Shaw
Vice Chair-House Committee on Transportation
Chair-Rutland County Legislative Delegation

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