Porsche enthusiast causes a very slight shift in the legal firmament

Owners of historic and specialty vehicles in Maryland are crossing their fingers in hopes that they'll no longer be compelled by law to mar their cars' finish by attaching license plates to the front.

Two bills regarding the front plates were heard on Feb. 19, part of a decade-long ritual of hearing-and rejecting-bills that would remove the front-plate requirement for passenger cars. But this time, something different happened.

"Based upon previous testimony, the state police may not be in opposition to having some type of legislation . . . that specified what class of vehicles . . . can be exempt," State Police First Sgt. Michael Tagliaferri told the lawmakers. "But currently the way that the bill is written, state police is in opposition to this."

Tagliaferri, who seemed to depart just slightly from prepared remarks in opposition to the bills, caused the committee members to discuss the matter, opening the possibility that one of the bills may be amended or redrafted to narrowly exempt vehicles with historic and/or "street rod" plates.

"It seems like they hadn't considered it before," says Rob Mairs, an Edgewater resident who testified in favor of the bills.

Moments before testifying, Mairs (along with representatives from several other car clubs) introduced himself to Tagliaferri and asked if the trooper could say a word in favor of the narrow exemption for Class L and N vehicles-the MVA's designation for historic vehicles and street rods that are registered only for limited use.

Tagliaferri confirms that the police had not considered the narrow exemptions before Mairs suggested them, though he is not saying they would support it. "We would have to see what the proposed legislation was," he says.

Mairs says he's never testified at the legislature before and didn't know the matter was in play until a few weeks ago.

"I guess I heard about it on one of the [internet] forums, Dorkiphus.net," he says, referencing an online forum for Porsche owners. "I saw that Virginia was doing something on front plates. So I thought, Shoot, I'll see if one of my delegates will do it."

Mairs wrote his delegate and was referred to Del. Donald Elliott (R-District 4B), who has pushed the issue before and has two bills pending. He got word of the hearing and drove to Annapolis.

Elliott's bills, HB 562 and HB 577, are very different. HB 562 would add Maryland to the 19 states, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, that require only the rear plate. Maryland already exempts motorcycles from the front-plate requirement.

The fiscal note on HB 562 says savings would be about $580,000 dollars a year, but says the costs of fewer fines would negate the savings.

HB 577 is narrower, allowing owners of "cars manufactured without the means" for attaching a front plate to keep said plate in the passenger compartment. "Google Corvette Stingray. Just Google it," Elliott urged fellow lawmakers at the start of the hearing. "See what that beauty looks like-see if you want to mark that vehicle up."

Mairs owns a replica Porsche 356 coupe made of fiberglass and powered by VW internals. It has no good place for a front plate-no bumpers at all, in fact. "I drive at risk," he told the lawmakers.

Mairs says he's since heard from a couple of lawmakers who say they support HB 562. "So I've got my fingers crossed," he says. "But if the entire bill doesn't pass, I think the other one has a chance."

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