CLEVELAND - Ohioans would only be required to display one license plate on their vehicles instead of two if a bill proposed by two state legislators is approved.
State Reps. Terry Johnson, of McDermott, and Stephen Slesnick, of Canton, say requiring one license plate on the rear bumper could save the state more than $1 million annually.
They said the bill also would save money for car owners with vehicles not built to have front plates. They now pay additional costs to have brackets put on cars to hold front plates.
But opponents of the bill, including some law enforcement officials, say removing the requirement for the front plate would take away a tool they use to deter crime.
Several law enforcement officials who testified this past week before the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee said front plates make it easier for citizens to report people involved in crimes. They also allow police to locate vehicles in crime or traffic investigations and help to identify motorists, the bill's opponents said.
But Slesnick said the dual plates have nothing to do with deterring crime.
"What is going on in states that don't require front license plates?" he said.
The five states that surround Ohio -- Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan -- only require one license plate.
Rep. Bill Patmon, of Cleveland, said requiring only one plate doesn't seem to have impaired enforcement of the law in those states.
"If that were the case, we would put license plates on the sides of cars, not just the front and the back," Patmon said.
But Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath wants to keep the current law. He says having two plates helps police and witnesses identify vehicles involved in crimes and "definitely gives us an edge in identifying vehicles in the city."
The State Highway Patrol also supports dual plates, saying they help law enforcement at emergency scenes and in investigating hit-skip accidents or thefts at gas pumps.
"The value the additional identifier on the front of the vehicle can be a valuable tool for law enforcement when a crime occurs," said patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston.
Patmon said dropping the front-plate requirement also would deter selective enforcement by police targeting cars solely because the front plate is missing.
Studies by Cleveland State University have shown that racial profiling is a problem in parts of Cuyahoga County, the newspaper reported. Ronnie Dunn, an urban studies professor at Cleveland State University who has authored studies on police racial profiling in Cuyahoga County, said changing the law could help lower the number of unnecessary traffic stops by police that he says target minorities.
"Any change in the law could affect those groups and population that is traditionally, disproportionately affected and subjected to involuntary stops by police," Dunn said.
Dustyn Fox, of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, said that there were about 10.5 million sets of license plates in the state in 2012, and a little less than 2 million sets of plates were produced last year for drivers who replaced sets or purchased new vehicles.
The law would save motorists $1.25, and save the state about $1.4 million year, Fox said.
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