Allowing license plate readers to spot uninsured motorists a step closer to reality in Louisiana _lowres

Associated Press file photo An Alexandria, Va., police car uses a license plate scanner in July. The Homeland Security Department has backed out of a proposal for a private company give it access to a nationwide database of license plate tracking information.

A statewide pilot program that would use license plate readers to catch uninsured motorists as well as perpetrators of crimes cleared a big hurdle Monday.

The Louisiana House voted 83-13 for the Senate-passed measure. The bill now returns to the Senate for the concurrence needed in House changes before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 250, license plate readers would be linked to the state’s vehicle registration and compulsory motor vehicle insurance databases.

The information generated could be used as evidence of a violation of the compulsory motor vehicle insurance law or for felonies being investigated such as motor vehicle theft, homicide, kidnapping and burglary, or for Amber and Blue alerts.

The sheriff’s office in each parish, in cooperation with the district attorney’s office, is authorized to participate in the pilot program.

“The technology can do what police cannot do: be everywhere all the time,” said Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, former Louisiana State Police superintendent.

Rep. Michael Johnson, R-Bossier City, said everyone has concerns about “big brother,” but he said the bill is tailored narrowly enough to allay concerns. He said law enforcement cannot retain a databank of information. The data not being used as evidence of a violation of the law must be destroyed in 30 days.

“Ultimately the benefit outweighs the risk,” Johnson said. He said the potential is there to reduce automobile insurance rates by getting uninsured motorists off the road.

An annual report would be submitted to legislative committees by the Department of Public Safety on program operations along with any recommendations for improvement.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, is sponsor of SB250 creating the Statewide Motor Vehicle Theft and Uninsured Motorists Identification Program.

The program cannot be used to enforce civil traffic citations by any method including towing or booting or other immobilization method of a motor vehicle.

The license plate readers are in use in some places already. New Orleans received grants to purchase readers; they still must spend money on maintaining image databases. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spends roughly $200,000 a year to maintain its system, and the State Police spend about $90,000.

While most parishes are not yet saturated with mounted license plate readers, a growing number of jurisdictions are deploying a mobile version of the technology: cameras attached to police units that are constantly scanning the plates of both moving and parked vehicles.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at blog.