MONTGOMERY – Legislation by State Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) would confirm that state law prohibits centralized motor vehicle registration by any state agency.

State officials said at a public hearing in the Senate County and Municipal Government committee on Tuesday that they don't have an interest in taking over motor vehicle registration duties from counties, but they're opposed to the legislation because it could ban registration data sharing between state agencies and law enforcement.

Weaver said at the meeting her legislation "confirms and clarifies the code that makes motor vehicle registration and the related system used to actually register a motor vehicle the responsibility of the applicable county officials."

"The purpose of this bill is not to cause problems with essential statewide services just strictly focus on the motor vehicle registration being the responsibility of the county," Weaver said. "To give you a little bit of history on this…during the 2022 legislative session, SB 211 calling for the titling of vessels, the boat titling that you may remember from last year in Alabama that was passed…the Department of Revenue then issued an RFP in August of last year that only partially related to that act. This RFP was titled Vessel Titling System but very significant and unrelated requirements were added including a state-sponsored Alabama Motor Vehicle Registration System that was not desired by the applicable county officials."

Marengo County Probate Judge Laurie Hall said, "Unfortunately, there's been some false information that's been going around about what this bill actually does."

"We discussed the RFP which was issued some time ago. We have concerns amongst our associations about the way it was written. We also have concerns about the fact that we're spending $39 million to an outside-of-the-state company and that only one company qualified under the way the RFP was written. That said, that's been done," Hall said. "The RFP that was written and issued solicited a title system, it revamped the current vehicle title system, and also solicited writing a vehicle registration system. The Department of Revenue indicated earlier today that they were not interested in registering vehicles. If that were true, they would not have the vehicle registration system that they have been able to solicit to our 67 counties. As it stands right now, there is a registration system that is being proposed to our 67 counties, and it has been proposed to us as free. That is in violation of the law as it currently stands."

Hall said the legislation "is simply keeping registration at the local level." 

"All of our constituents come to us. Your constituents, my constituents. They want to get their vehicles registered in their home county," Hall said. "They don't want to be slowed down by a state system that would absolutely slow down the processes in our offices. It would cause frustration. It would be phone calls to me which would ultimately be phone calls to you by frustrated consumers who are standing in line and dealing with a state system that we do not need. This would solely keep the law as is to keep the centralized registration system with the counties and not make it to where the state could take over the centralized registration."

Cameron Clark, tax policy and governmental affairs representative for the Alabama Department of Revenue (ALDOR), said ALDOR opposes the legislation as written because it would "cease a lot of essential services the Department, in essence, flows to others."

 "Vehicles are always done at the local level. That's always the intention of the Department of Revenue," Clark said. "ALDOR is tasked with providing uniformity over the registration process. Tags, registration decals, registration receipts…but also we act as a data hub. Registration information from the local officials flows back down to the Department of Revenue (and) every night we push it back out so we always have and run on updated registration information. We also take that same registration information and flow it outward to other systems throughout the state. So, in essence, we just act as the data hub. We manage registration information. We don't manage the registration of the vehicle. We just manage the data. We flow data continuously to ALEA for law enforcement purposes. We flow data to DOT (Department of Transportation) on the registration of heavy use vehicles for their type of funding for their roads and bridges."

Clark said, "We don't want to register vehicles," with the statutory exceptions of commercial and fleet vehicles.  

"That's why portions of that might've been mentioned in the RFP," Clark said.

Mary Martin Mitchell, ALDOR executive counsel, told the committee, "The product that was secured through that RFP, it's an off-the-shelf product that is then customized and configured to whatever jurisdiction." 

"This vendor over the last ten years has done this type of software in 17 jurisdictions," Mitchell said. "That was offered to locals if they would like to consider that at the local level. They can choose it or they can stick with their custom product that is probably tailored to their services. We would assume that would be the choice that would avail every time. There are some underserved communities that may need a choice, and it is already paid for because we need this product for the titling. That is some of the backstory on the solicitation of registration."

Chris Reader, governmental affairs director for Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), said the bill could affect their Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS), a database officers use to search personal and vehicle information.

"Our concern about the bill is the way it is written and the prohibition on having a state agency manage the data and manage vehicle registration is it could potentially impact LETS (Law Enforcement Tactical System) and our ability to manage a statewide database for vehicles on the roadways," Reader said.

Tallapoosa County Probate Judge Talmadge East said, "It appears to me what we have a little bit of is smoke and mirrors and boogeyman out here about what this bill does. If you look at the text of the bill itself…if it did any of those things that they're talking about it doing then why are there so minor changes in the bill?"

"All it does is codify what the intent of the legislature already was. Previous legislatures have made it their intent that there will be no centralized registration system in Alabama," East said. "This codifies that and makes it retroactive to Oct. 1, 2022. If they weren't doing that anyway, why does the retroactivity matter? If they were doing that, why were they doing that as opposed to the laws that exist now. It is our contention that they should not have had a centralized prior to this. They should not have a centralized system going forward. All this bill does is codify what the intent of previous legislatures and hopefully this legislature will be as well. I think you have to stretch yourself to come up with an interpretation of this law to say that all these bad things are going to happen. I feel like the legislature has already made their intent clear. We just seek to codify that intent because we feel like there have been steps made where we were never included."

The legislation wasn't voted on in committee on Tuesday. Weaver asked the bill be carried over "to give the parties the opportunity to work on some resolution and then we'll bring it back to the committee to see where we can go from there."

"It seems like if we do a little work on this we might all could get to a place where we're comfortable," Weaver said. "I'm not quite sure we're there today. I'd like the opportunity to work on an amendment or language or let the two parties kind of work together to see if we can come to an agreement on something that can work again. Our goal is to focus on motor vehicle registration only. We're not trying to get into any essential statewide data services."

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