Ohio police concerned about state's proposed elimination of front license plates
State, local police officers say it will be difficult to identify suspects, wanted vehicles and drivers who pass stopped school buses
Akron Beacon Journal
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Concerned about crime, police officers, sheriffs and prosecutors have gained an ally in their effort to save Ohio's front license plate.
School officials warn that children will be endangered by motorists who whiz past stopped buses and increasingly elude apprehension unless lawmakers reverse course on the front plate's scheduled demise on July 1.
Citing aesthetics, the increasing use of sensors in front bumpers and the desires of auto dealers, House Republicans insisted on eliminating the plate as part of a conference committee deal to pass the transportation budget last spring.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, for one, said he is not changing his mind. "The decision has already been made regarding the front license plate. It was decided in the transportation budget," he said this week.
The speaker aside, some lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine are battling to save the plate by enacting Senate Bill 179 to reverse the prior decision, with the safety of school pupils now being added to the mix of concerns.
Loss of the plate "would reduce the chances of identifying dangerous drivers who endanger our school children when they ignore warnings to stop for school buses," said Melody Coniglio, president of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation.
Col. Richard Fambro, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, told lawmakers that bus drivers, assisted by video cameras, "almost exclusively utilize the front license plate to identify violators" and report them to police.
The lack of a front plate on offenders' vehicles will make it "virtually impossible" to track down the drivers who blow past stopped school buses, said Fambro, whose troopers charge more than 600 such drivers each year.
School officials say motorists failing to stop for buses halted to pick up or drop off children is an increasing problem.
An Ohio School Boards Association survey of bus drivers from 183 districts found more than 1,500 buses were passed illegally on one day alone last March, suggesting the statewide total of improper passes could be more than 4,500 each day.
The forfeiture of the front plate "will not only hinder the identification of offenders, it will make bus stops more dangerous for students," the school boards group wrote in conjunction with groups representing school administrators and business officials.
In Senate committee testimony last month, police groups pressed their case that the front license plate makes it easier for police, and their automatic plate readers, to detect wanted vehicles and capture criminals, including murderers.
"By removing one plate, you remove 50 percent of law enforcement's ability to apprehend criminals," said Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio lobbyist Mike Weinman.
Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft also value the front plate since it makes easier for riders to determine they are entering the correct vehicle, Weinman said.
Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, co-sponsor of the bill to restore the front plate, recites numerous stories and data provided by police about the public safety value of the plate. Thirty-one of the 50 states require front plates.
"You cannot look at the data and come to any other conclusion but this is a significant crime-fighting tool," he said.