AUSTIN (KXAN) — Could Texas soon be saying goodbye to its paper license plate problem?

A bipartisan bill to eliminate temporary paper license plates — inspired in part by a series of KXAN investigations into widespread fraud — cleared the Senate on Wednesday in a vote of 30-1. It now goes back to the House for final approval.

“We’re well on the road to making certain we deal organized crime…a severe defeat as it relates to these tags,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

If it passes, and is signed into law, Texas would switch to all metal license plates.

West, who sponsored House Bill 718, said the amended version addresses industry concerns. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, called it a “very important bill.”

“The problem is organized crime,” said West. “The fact of the matter is we’ve had…paper plates…all over the entire country so this particular bill does something about it.”

The bill was originally introduced by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who had multiple KXAN investigations printed out on his desk when we spoke with him about the bill in March.

“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.”

“The only fix, in our opinion, is to get rid of paper tags altogether,” he added.

Sen. Royce West explains HB 718 before it passes the Senate on May 24. (Courtesy Texas Senate)

As KXAN previously revealed, temporary tag fraud has become a booming $200 million black market with sales to all 50 states. The bogus tags turn vehicles into “ghost cars,” making them virtually untraceable by law enforcement.

Tag fraud has been connected to crimes ranging from not paying tolls to human smuggling at the border, robbery, rape and murder, according to law enforcement. 

“I’m glad that both chambers recognized the importance of paper tags,” said Central Texas Deputy David Kohler, who has been pushing for this change since 2019. “Nothing will ever eliminate fraud but I would like to think, and hope, that the steps the legislature has done this session will do as much deterrent to try to eliminate as much fraud as possible.”

HB 718 has received overwhelming support in both chambers. It passed the House on May 2 in a vote of 145-0.

While West said the bill has “addressed” the paper tag problem, he acknowledged it won’t be solved overnight. Under the bill, the TxDMV has until Dec. 1, 2024 to create a rule that would implement the changes.

“Thanks to you, and your reporting,” said Kohler, “a lot of education has been disseminated about the reality of what this really was.”

The bill would take effect on July 1, 2025.