Want to report plate violation? Troopers don't want your help

CARSON CITY -- Angry Southern Nevada residents, upset that longtime neighbors aren't changing their out-of-state license plates, said they should be able to report violators to the Nevada Highway Patrol. But the agency doesn't want their help.

"I don't care if the pope owns a company; if his company works in Nevada, he has to get Nevada plates," Las Vegas resident Jim Jackson said. "You write a $500 or $600 check at the DMV, and then you drive down the street and see these companies working on our streets with Utah plates."

A resident named Jeannie said she knows people who have kept a Jaguar parked in Las Vegas for years without changing the plates. The owners return to their native Canada part of the year.

"I think this is an insult to the legal residents of the state of Nevada; they are flaunting the fact they are considered exempt," added Jeannie, who requested her last name not be used.

If it is called snitching, then so be it, said Jeannie, noting she has emailed a photo of a car with out-of-state plates to police.

She and other people said a new Highway Patrol campaign isn't going to catch many more car registration scofflaws.

They responded to a Thursday story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about how the agency, starting in April, will embark on a campaign to ticket residents who do not change their out-of-state plates within the required 30 days.

Snowbirds, out-of-state and foreign students, and active members of the military are exempt from the law.

But the Highway Patrol intends to catch the registration outlaws only when troopers stop their vehicles for moving violations. They will not be going to homes to look for violators or soliciting the assistance of residents in reporting violators.

Gail Powell, a spokeswoman for Department of Public Safety Director Chris Perry, said they will focus solely on finding violations during traffic stops. She said they don't want public assistance, and they don't even want troopers knocking on doors of people in their own neighborhoods where they have seen cars with out-of-state plates parked for months.

Gov. Brian Sandoval defers to Perry on how to catch residents who have not switched their registrations to Nevada, said his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner.

But there still is a place where some Southern Nevadans can report violators.

The Las Vegas Township constable's office maintains a 24-hour "fair share hotline" at 455-FAIR on which people can turn in residents they suspect have failed to change their car registrations. The office has seven investigators who check out these leads in the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.

"We get 50 calls a day," said former Assemblyman Lou Toomin, a spokesman for the constables. "We aren't storm troopers going to apartment parking lots. Neighbors are ratting out their neighbors. We only go when we get these leads."

Toomin said the constables met Thursday with state Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, who secured a legislative counsel's opinion March 21 that they could not cite snowbirds. Toomin also said the Legislature needs to clarify the legal definition of snowbirds and temporary residents.

Through their efforts since 2010, the constables have produced $1 million in additional revenue for the state, local government and schools, Toomin said.

"I have lived here for 19 years and have endured the long lines at the DMV to register my cars and motor homes," Southern Nevadan Jane Kentz said. "I belong to a motor home group, and four people have out-of-state plates. These people own houses here and are getting by with this. If they can afford these big motor homes, they should be made to put Nevada plates on them."

"These people are not snowbirds, they are tax cheats and scumbags," she added. "Something needs to be done about these people."

But the Highway Patrol doesn't want her information. Toomin said he spoke with Perry on Friday, and, like the residents, he doesn't believe the agency's campaign will do much more than bring attention to the problem.

Jackson said he is particularly irked because repairs on streets in his neighborhood are being performed by equipment and worker cars with Utah plates.

He said the plates have no "apportionment" signs to indicate the company is paying fees to several states. It is clear to him that Clark County hired the company, and yet the county is getting no fees from its vehicles.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has no idea how many vehicles on Nevada roads and streets are owned by bona fide residents who have out-of-state plates. But during a hearing last year, Parks said 52,000 vehicle owners were cited in 2009 and 58,000 in 2010 for not changing their plates.

Legislators unanimously passed a law effective last July 1 that gives residents 30 days to change their plates. Previously they had 60 days.

The new law, sponsored by Parks, increased the penalty for not changing plates to as much as $1,000. The minimum fine remains $250 for those who fail to get Nevada plates within 30 days. But for those who wait six months, the fine is $1,000.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.