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Pa. drivers could start buying custom license plates online under a House-approved bill

Police can pull over a driver if any part of their license plate is obscured by a frame, including the edges or the URL, a state court ruled this week.
Police can pull over a driver if any part of their license plate is obscured by a frame, including the edges or the URL, a state court ruled this week.

Pennsylvania drivers could have their pick of new license plate designs under a bill the state House is moving forward.

A few Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill, which would allow private companies to sell their own plate designs to drivers online. Right now, drivers can pick them up only at a DMV location.

License plate designers would have to guarantee they could make money for the state for at least five years – and give Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation the final say over most design elements.

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PennDOT currently designs and produces the standard blue-and-yellow plate and some specialty plates. The agency also allows non-profit groups to submit their own designs. Those are featured in the left hand corner of a standard-issue plate.

“It [private license plate sales] raises revenue without raising taxes or fees on our citizens,” Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), the bill’s sponsor, said during debate Wednesday.

“It allows PennDOT to use those dollars that will go back into the motor licensing fund in order to do infrastructure projects in all of our areas,” she added.

Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian has said the state should be looking for new funding sources for what’s known as the Motor License Fund. Delozier claimed her bill would raise $10 million for that cash pool per year.

PennDOT uses that fund to help pay for road and bridge construction projects. The Pennsylvania State Police also uses it to pay for some of its enforcement efforts. But much of the money comes from gas taxes that drivers pay at the pump.

So far this year, Pennsylvania has generated $272 million in gas taxes – which the Department of Revenue calls the oil company franchise tax. That’s down from more than $279 million in August of 2019, before the pandemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is warning that decline will steepen as electric cars become more common.

Pennsylvania drivers can currently choose from more than 400 license plate designs, something Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) pointed out as he opposed the bill Wednesday.

Caroll added license plates in “every color imaginable” could be difficult for law enforcement to read.

“PennDOT has scores of license plates right now,” Carroll said. “We don’t have a flaming fuchsia license plate and we don’t need one.”

State senators are now considering the measure, though it’s not clear whether it will be voted on before the end of session on Nov. 30.