AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is one step closer to ending its paper license plate problem — following years of KXAN investigations into widespread fraud — after the House voted unanimously to pass a bill that would do away with them altogether.

“I think the message is loud and clear,” said Sgt. Jose Escribano with the Travis County Constable’s Office Pct. 3. “This was unanimous. This a knock out right there, no question.”

In a vote of 145-0, HB 718 passed unanimously Tuesday. It was introduced by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who previously said KXAN’s investigations into paper tag fraud helped inspire the legislation. KXAN reached out to Goldman’s office for comment late Tuesday but did not immediately hear back.

The measure aims to stop widespread use of fake paper tags – which police say can be easy to counterfeit and are tied to a major criminal operation in Texas and beyond.

In March, Goldman said getting rid of paper tags was the “only fix.”

“The more we dove into it, and the more we saw stories, like what you do,” said Goldman, “we realized what a major problem it is.”

Rep. Craig Goldman holds an altered temporary tag showing a fake car dealership named after him in March. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

For years, Escribano has warned lawmakers and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles about security flaws with its system that allowed criminals to infiltrate the TxDMV by posing as car dealers to print and sell real temporary tags with bogus information — turning vehicles used by criminals all over the country into virtually untraceable “ghost cars.”

The problem ballooned into a nationwide $200 million black market.

News articles, including several from KXAN, printed out on Rep. Craig Goldman’s desk, next to a temporary tag altered to show a fake car dealership named after him in March. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

“It was outstanding to see” the bill pass the House, said Escribano, reached by phone late Tuesday. “I was shocked but it was outstanding to see the House actually got it. They got it.”

Deputy David Kohler, who works in Central Texas, praised the bill and said, if it is signed into law, it will make everyone safer and would allow law enforcement to “stop chasing ghost cars.”

“I’m glad, now, the legislature seems to have the appreciation of the paper tag issue we’ve been dealing with for years,” said Kohler. “I hope it continues and succeeds.”

It now heads next to the Senate, where an identical bill is awaiting action. Last month, lawmakers heard testimony on a similar bill, SB 2567, introduced by State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). That bill would also eliminate temporary paper license plates. It was left pending in committee.

“We’re half way there,” said Escribano. “We just have to make it to shore — and that’s the Senate.”

If passed and signed into law, Goldman’s bill would go into effect in March 2025.