DENVER (CBS4) – Frustrated by the special treatment afforded state lawmakers due to their unique license plates, Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is introducing a bill to abolish the plates altogether, a move sparked by a CBS4 investigation that revealed the preferential treatment.
“I believe strongly those who make the laws shouldn’t be treated differently than those who sent us here to represent them,” Holbert said.
He plans to introduce a bill at the state Capitol this month that would repeal the ability of state lawmakers to get those special plates that identify what district they represent, but also preclude them from getting certain types of moving and parking violations in some cities and towns.
“My preference would be we repeal them and this is an opportunity … to send the message we are treated the same,” Holbert said.
His legislative move was prompted by a multi-part CBS4 investigation beginning in July 2013 that showed that in many cases, Colorado’s 100 state senators and representatives are not getting photo radar, red light tickets and parking tickets in some jurisdictions.
CBS4 found that the state department of motor vehicles does not incorporate those legislative plates into its database, so cities that rely on the state DMV database to automatically issue red light, photo radar and even parking tickets, have nowhere to send those tickets when those legislative plates are caught on camera.
“These particular plates are registered to a person, not a vehicle, therefore there is not a record of them in the DMV database,” acknowledged Daria Serna, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees the DMV.
Seven months after CBS4 alerted DMV to the glitch, the state agency still hasn’t been able to fix the problem.
“The request for a programming change to the system is still on the list, but had not happened yet,” Serna said. “As this programming request is part of a long-term modernization plan, a timeline for that programming request has not been established, but we continue to make sure it is considered a priority.”
Holbert contends it would be better to dump the plates altogether since in his view, they create “distrust” between voters and their elected lawmakers.
Several other state lawmakers told CBS4 they are aware of the investigation and something needs to change.
“Well, it’s ridiculous,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood, who called the glitch in the system “detrimental to democracy.” However Kagan wasn’t gung ho about getting rid of the plates completely saying they have “legitimate functions. I’m not sure getting rid of the plates is the right solution. How difficult is this? I think the DMV should get their act together and make sure we’re subject to the same penalties as everyone else.”
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino agreed.
“The system within the Department of Motor Vehicles is not registering plates. That needs to be corrected,” Ferrandino said. “At a minimum we need to fix the glitch in the system so that legislators are accountable like every other driver in our state.”
Ferrandino told CBS4 he was optimistic the glitch would be remedied, one way or the other, during this calendar year.
CBS4 also found that the license plate loophole has shielded lawmakers from getting notices of past due parking tickets in Denver. Lawmakers who don’t pay their parking tickets are not sent to collections since the City of Denver relies on the same state DMV database for addresses.
“We are not able to contact legislators with unpaid parking tickets,” said Emily Williams, spokesperson for Denver Public Works.
In response to a CBS4 request, Denver identified 16 legislative plates that had received a total of $2,100 in fines and penalties that were never paid.