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Bill Dealing With State Legislator Plates Advances

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Some state lawmakers avoid traffic tickets (credit: CBS)

Some state lawmakers avoid traffic tickets (credit: CBS)

Brian Maass By Brian Maass
CBS4 Investigates
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DENVER (CBS4)- A bill to make sure state lawmakers receive the same kinds of citations as other motorists was amended Thursday and advanced out of the House Committee on Transportation and Energy by an 8-3 vote.

“I think it is a problem that needs to be fixed,” said State Rep. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat representing Commerce City, as he expressed support for the bill.

The measure was prompted by a multi-part CBS4 Investigation that began in July 2013. It revealed that Colorado lawmakers with their special legislative license plates were essentially exempt from photo radar and red light tickets in cities like Denver and Aurora because those legislative plates were not incorporated into the Department of Motor Vehicles database.

So some automated municipal systems that rely on the DMV database to know where to send citations, have had nowhere to send tickets that rely on data from the DMV database.

“When Brian Maass ran that story I took the legislative license plates off my car,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, a Republican representing Parker.

Holbert also decided to sponsor a bill to repeal the special plates for state legislators saying intentional or not, the glitch was creating further distrust between the public and the politicians elected to serve.

“I believe strongly those who make the laws shouldn’t be treated differently than those who sent us here to represent them,” said Holbert. “We shouldn’t have any special privilege. We work for you and we should be treated the same.”

He said the plates were decorative anyway and served no practical purpose.

The City of Denver acknowledged that lawmakers who owe thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets have not been pursued since the City of Denver relies on the DMV database and therefore did not have anywhere to send overdue notices to collect fines.

In pushing his bill, Holbert told fellow lawmakers, “We need to send a clear message that we do not look for special privileges, that we live by the laws we pass here.”

But several lawmakers pushed back saying having the plates helps them communicate with their constituents.

“It is a valuable tool that identifies you as their representative said Rep. Don Coram, a Republican representing Montrose. “It is a very valuable asset in rural Colorado.”

State Rep. Randy Fischer, a Democrat representing Fort Collins voiced opposition to dumping the plates, “People see that plate and know I showed up at their event. I’ll be very much opposed to this.”

Lawmakers pressed a DMV representative for answers as to why the glitch had not been fixed eight months after the CBS4 Investigation aired.

Tony Anderson, a DMV employee said at the hearing, “We are limited with the system we operate.”

He said the DMV has actually been aware of the problem since 2010 but that the state’s archaic database operating system could not be updated to address the problem.

Ultimately lawmakers added an amendment to the bill with several provisions that they hope will bridge the gaps in the state database.

Daria Serna, a spokesperson for the Department of Motor Vehicles, said her agency believes the new provisions in the amendment will rectify the problem.

“The agency believes that the amendment that was attached today to the bill will ‘fix’ the problem that you have been reporting on,” said Serna.

Chris Holbert, who had hoped to dump the plates completely, said he was “disappointed” in the outcome believing “the committee is looking for a fix I don’t think will be effective. I think this minor fix doesn’t get us there and the result will be the same sort of thing.”

The bill that would allow legislators to keep their plates will now go to the full House for further discussion next week.

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