Calhoun County License Commissioner Barry Robertson’s job has just become a little easier, thanks to the Alabama Legislature.
Thursday, the body passed a law to limit the number of special commercial tags that vehicle-sales companies can purchase.
The law closed a legal loophole, one that allowed companies to abuse the privilege of buying so-called “dealer tags” for automobiles. Previously, there was no limit to the number of tags a properly certified “dealer” could buy.
Two years ago, Robertson’s office discovered an excessive number of dealer tags were being purchased by companies with little or no local presence and were ending up outside of state lines on cars. Robertson suspected that, in some instances, the tags were being sold for a profit to people who might not have wanted to register to drive in their respective states.
But no legal lines being were being obviously crossed because the law, as it had been written, left plenty of room for interpretation when determining which vehicles could and couldn’t get the dealer tags. This spring, lawmakers looked into the matter and on Thursday passed the law that put a limit on the number of tags that could be bought under that premise.
The new law limits those wholesale car dealers to just 10 tags. It will also increase the penalty for anyone who files false statements to acquire the tags. The bill states that anyone who uses the tags improperly would be subject to criminal penalties, a fine of $1,000 and may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
Typically the tags, which begin with the letter D and sell for $26, are used to transport vehicles between sales. But Robertson said he discovered people were coming to Calhoun County to purchase the easily accessible inexpensive tags only to give them out in other places.
“I just feel like the law is being circumvented,” Robertson told The Star before the limitation passed. “Personally, I’m not comfortable with it.”
Robertson has received reports of dealer tags from Calhoun County popping up in Las Vegas, New York and other places outside Alabama. One day last year, Robertson received a call from the Baltimore Police Department.
“Since then we’ve had problems with wholesale dealerships,” Robertson said.
The officer from Baltimore didn’t say why the tags caught the department’s attention, but asked why so many of the Calhoun County dealer tags were appearing in the city he policed. Robertson began looking into it and found that not just one, but several people were using hard-to-track wholesale car company names to acquire the tags.
And the problem hasn’t been limited to Calhoun County. He said license commissioners in other parts of the state are experiencing the same problem.
Robertson has come across about half a dozen wholesale companies he suspects have purchased or attempted to purchase tags for redistribution from his office since 2009.
Most are companies based in other states that come to Alabama and secure a state license to work as wholesalers. The owners go through the proper paperwork, set up a business, establish a phone line and go to Robertson’s office for tags. But within weeks the property is vacant, the phone lines disconnected.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson