Okay, so yesterday we learned that HPD officers are still ticketing cars that have license plate frames, even though the existing somewhat-unclear law on the subject was changed to exempt most such frames this past session. The law doesn't take effect until September 1, but the issue has been known - and complained about - for awhile now. Turns out that even Mayor White was in violation of the old law, but had so far escaped an encounter with one of the more dedicated ticket-writers. All that may have led to today's announcement by the Mayor that enough is enough.
Calling the practice a "gotcha system," Mayor Bill White on Monday said Houston police shouldn't ticket motorists for having common brackets around their license plates that will no longer be illegal when a revised state law takes effect in September.
The department had been issuing the $98 tickets under a broadly worded state statute intended to prevent motorists from trying to evade authorities by obscuring their plates.
The state's top appellate court ruled recently that the law's wording meant that any covering of the plate -- even the stars, moon or state nickname -- was a violation.
The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that officers had issued at least 9,500 such tickets since January, including 2,200 since Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would allow drivers to have brackets advertising car dealers or touting alumni affiliations.
White said he planned to tell both Police Chief Harold Hurtt and the city's top prosecutor, Randy Zamora, that motorists shouldn't be punished if an officer can reasonably determine the state and plate numbers.
"Our law enforcement officers should have better things to do," White said. "We're not there to just have some gotcha system. The purpose of these moving-violation citations is to discourage unlawful behavior, not to generate the maximum amount of revenue possible."
The mayor's position is consistent with a bill, authored by state Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, that removes the broad language from the state's transportation code that prohibited obscuring any design feature of a plate. A motorist also would have to cover more than half the state's name, generally not an issue with license brackets, to be in violation.
Perry signed a companion version of Callegari's legislation, offered by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, May 4.
Callegari said Monday he was pleased the mayor intervened.
"Somebody might get a ticket today, and three months from now they wouldn't. That's certainly not fair," he said.
City prosecutors say they will consider dismissing past citations if motorists come to court and bring a picture showing they've removed the bracket, or that it complies with the spirit of the law.