KXAN (AUSTIN) — State senators heard testimony on a bill Wednesday that would replace Texas’ temporary paper license plates with metal ones.

The bill, SB 2567similar to one introduced in the House — aims to crack down on widespread fraud and criminal activity tied to paper tags. It’s a problem KXAN has investigated for years.

Among those who testified: A Dallas-area police chief whose officer was killed last November while pursuing a suspect with a bogus paper tag.

“Fraudulent paper tags are the criminal instrument of choice for drug traffickers, human smugglers, auto theft rings, street gangs, street takeover groups,” said Grand Prairie Police Chief Daniel Scesney. “And, yes, cop killers.”

His officer’s death isn’t the only one linked to fraudulent paper tags.

Scesney gave lawmakers a copy of a fraudulent paper license plate his team made with a working QR code to show how easy it can be done — even with the state’s new security-enhanced features.

He said his officers have seized “hundreds” of fake paper tags with the new security enhancements in the Dallas-area alone. It takes an average of six minutes to spot one, he said.

Grand Prairie Police Chief Daniel Scesney testifies (Courtesy Senate Committee on Transportation)

‘Fix it if you’re sorry’

Tawny Solbrig shared the story of her son’s death with lawmakers for the second time in a month. It’s the same story she shared with KXAN and the TxDMV more than a year ago.

“If the DMV listened to these officers years ago my son would have celebrated his 21st birthday this year,” she said. “It’s not a victimless crime.”

Solbrig’s son, Terrin, was killed in a crash in 2020 with a driver who had illegal tags and never should have been allowed on the road, she said.

“My son paid the ultimate consequences for Texas’ actions,” she said.

Solbrig supports both Texas bills to eliminate paper tags — but feels the paper tag problem should have been addressed back in 2017, when law enforcement brought the issue to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. She accused the state of “putting lives in danger” by not acting.

“I’m a little bitter because, I think about it, if it did happen to your family,” she told lawmakers, “it wouldn’t have taken so long.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss, ma’am,” said State Sen. Robert Nichols, (R-Jacksonville), after Solbrig finished testifying.

“Thank you. Do it. Fix it,” she responded. “If you’re sorry, fix it. Don’t wait another two years.”

Tawny Solbrig testifies about her son’s death (Courtesy Senate Committee on Transportation)

Metal tags

Solbrig told lawmakers she does not know if metal tags are the solution but said “it’s better than what we have now.”

Critics pointed out metal tags are also being counterfeited. Law enforcement countered that it’s more difficult to do so and nowhere near at the level of paper tag fraud.

“Yeah, it is true that they can…[counterfeit] the hard metal plates, but that’s a little more difficult than this one right here,” said Sgt. Jose Escribano with the Travis County Constable’s Office Precinct 3 waving a paper tag. “You can go ahead, and if you have Adobe Pro, and you’re at least six years of age, you can go ahead and do one.”

Switching to an all-metal tag system would “dramatically reduce the fraud that you have,” he said.

“I understand that there are fake metal tags. Apples and oranges,” echoed Scesney. “The fake metal tags are so few and far compared to the paper tags it’s ridiculous.”

Central Texas deputy David Kohler holds a paper tag during testimony (Courtesy Senate Committee on Transportation)

‘Unintended consequences’

The Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas and the Texas Automobile Dealers Association raised questions about what happens to license plate inventory when a dealer goes out of business, how this will impact short-term commercial trucking permits, and what car dealers can do if they don’t have a metal plate in stock at the time of a sale?

TADA, which previously declined to comment on legislation to KXAN, told lawmakers implementing the bill would be a “huge operational challenge” and, from a business standpoint, is “very concerned” that sales would have to be “postponed” if a dealer doesn’t have an adequate supply on hand of metal plates. The organization asked for a “safety valve” to prevent the loss of sales for the 1,400 car dealerships it represents across the state, which account for 167,000 sales a month, said Robert Braziel, a lobbyist for TADA.

“I think this will involve a significant cost to the DMV, the tags and our dealers who will have storage and security costs associated with this,” Braziel said.

State Sen. Royce West, (D-Dallas), who introduced the bill, said he would “sit down…and work through these issues,” urging anyone with concerns to come to him with solutions. West said he doesn’t want his bill to have any “unintended consequences.”

Despite those concerns, law enforcement testified that the bill is needed to cut down on fraud and keep people safe.

“We’re still here,” said Central Texas deputy David Kohler. “So, that means there’s more work to be done. We’re not finished.”

West’s bill was left pending in committee. Rep. Craig Goldman, (R-Fort Worth), credited KXAN’s investigations for helping to inspire his similar bill. That bill, HB 718, was voted out of committee in a 11-0 vote. A report was sent to the Calendars Committee this past Monday for consideration by the full House.