EDITORIAL: Stick with no stickers, lawmakers

York Dispatch

Pennsylvania's 2013 Transportation Act was a long-overdue fix to our neglected roads, bridges and mass transit systems.

It was necessary and expensive — more expensive than it would have been had the Legislature stayed on top of it and not deferred maintenance year after year.

The act's $2.3 billion annual price tag was covered in part by an estimate gas tax hike of about 28 cents per gallon, phased in over five years, as well as vehicle registration and drivers license fee increases. It also added a surcharge to some moving violation traffic tickets and increases the fine for failing to obey a traffic control device by $125.

Almost as a bone to Pennsylvania drivers who would be picking up the tab, lawmakers also decided to do away with license plate registration stickers starting in 2016.

PennDOT has estimated it will save $1 million a year by eliminating the stickers — not a huge amount compared to overall cost of the Transportation Act, but it saved motorists the hassle of acquiring the little decals each year.

Now some lawmakers are trying to pull that little scrap away.

Bowing to pressure from police officials, the House this summer approved a bill to repeal the portion of the act that did away with the stickers.

Law enforcement officials say eliminating the decals will make their jobs more difficult. They won't be able to, with a simple glance, see if vehicles have current registration and would have to instead run license plate numbers through a computer database for confirmation.

That's not exactly a hardship in our book.

But even if it was, officers could instead simply check the front of a vehicle for its safety and emissions stickers. Drivers are still required to display those decals — and drivers are still required to provide proof of a valid registration to receive them.

We all know what this is about, and Craig McGowan — a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Pennsylvania State Lodge — admitted it last month when he testified before the House and Senate Transportation Committees.

"You notice (the sticker is) not on there, and you're going to stop the car, and that's your (probable cause) to have further investigation," The Morning Call of Allentown reported him saying. "It has led to a lot of other things just because they had a sticker missing."

So really, it's a fishing license for police.

Actually, other states already have eliminated license plate stickers and none have reported any law enforcement problems as a result, according to a 2011 study by Penn State's Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute.

We don't think it would be problem here, either, and we hope the state Senate rejects the House bill.

Police officers will still be able to do their jobs without license plate stickers.

They'll just need actual probable cause before they go rooting around for all those "other things."