N.J. Lawmaker Proposes Eliminating Paper Temporary License Plates to Fight Fraud

New Jersey Assembly Member Annette Chaparro (top) grilled Motor Vehicle Commission Administrator Latrecia Littles-Floyd about the state's easily counterfeited paper license plates at a hearing on Monday.
New Jersey Assembly Member Annette Chaparro (top) grilled Motor Vehicle Commission Administrator Latrecia Littles-Floyd about the state's easily counterfeited paper license plates at a hearing on Monday.

A New Jersey lawmaker has a novel solution to the widespread fraud involving temporary license plates from her state: getting rid of the paper tags entirely.

The proposal was floated by Assembly Member Annette Chaparro at a legislative hearing Wednesday in Trenton, where the Hoboken Democrat cited Streetsblog’s recent three-part investigation into temporary license plate fraud and said she is planning legislation to combat the “massive” problem.

“We have to change it,” Chaparro said of the state’s temporary license plate system. “I think we should do away with the paper. It’s very easy to duplicate.”

The lawmaker’s comments prompted the first public acknowledgement of the problem by Latrecia Littles-Floyd, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The agency licenses and regulates the state’s thousands of car dealerships, some of which are selling temporary license plates illegally, Streetsblog found.

“We are well aware that there is a major issue,” Littles-Floyd told Chaparro at the hearing. “Anything legislatively that you can do to help us, we’re willing to sit down and discuss it with you.”

Littles-Floyd, who said Wednesday her “goal is to be transparent,” previously declined Streetsblog’s request for an interview to discuss temp tag fraud.

Streetsblog found that the agency has granted dealership licenses to numerous businesses that went on to issue vast numbers of temporary license plates while displaying no other discernible business activity.

Dealers can only legally issue temp tags, as they’re known, when they sell or lease someone a car. But some New Jersey dealers admitted to Streetsblog that they sold the paper tags on the black market, where they go for upwards of $100 and are coveted by drivers who use them for anonymity while skipping tolls, driving without car insurance or committing more serious crimes.

Chaparro is the second New Jersey lawmaker to call for legislative action in the wake of Streetsblog’s report. Last month, Assembly Member Paul Moriarty said his staff was drafting legislation to address the small fines that the MVC typically imposes on dealers caught fraudulent issuing tags.

Chaparro cited one such example at the hearing on Wednesday: a licensed dealership that issued 36,000 temp tags in one year — worth potentially millions of dollars on the black market — and faced only a $500 fine when the MVC caught the business and shut it down.

“We do have auditing that goes on to try to shut down some of these places,” Littles-Floyd said. But “you issue the fine, they come back. They continue to do it.”

Chaparro’s proposal would go further than Moriarty’s by getting rid of temp tags entirely — a proposal that’s gaining steam in Texas, another state where sham dealerships have exploited loose regulations to sell the paper license plates. A bill eliminating Texas’s paper tags just unanimously passed the state House of Representatives and is pending in the state Senate.

The scandal over temp tag fraud in Texas has been boiling for years and has brought down multiple top officials at the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, including Littles-Floyd’s counterpart.

Temp tags from Texas, New Jersey and Georgia are common on the streets of New York City, where buyers admitted to Streetsblog that they use them to drive without car insurance or valid licenses. The tags are widely advertised online and are easy to purchase illegally.

A lawmaker in Georgia and a City Council member in New York also told Streetsblog last month that they are planning legislation on the issue.

In her comments on Wednesday, Littles-Floyd noted that temp tag fraud is a “nationwide” problem. But Streetsblog found New Jersey and Georgia have been particularly susceptible to the issue because the states make it far easier to obtain dealership credentials and issue official temporary tags than other states.

MVC Spokesman William Connolly declined to say whether the agency supports Chaparro’s proposal to eliminate paper license plates entirely.