July 12, 2014 10:58:23 PM
"The report of my death was an exaggeration," humorist Mark Twain once quipped. The same could be said of Mississippi's vehicle inspection program.
Annual vehicle safety inspections continue to be required in the state, but there has been confusion among drivers who may have read the headlines about the law's demise in the state legislature.
It is likely that some of the 39,333 drivers ticketed for not having a current state inspection sticker in 2013 may not have followed the legislation designed to end the program to its end.
While in each of the past six years, the Mississippi House has voted overwhelmingly to do away with inspection stickers, the bill has died in the Senate, leaving the law on the books.
Sgt. Criss Turnipseed, of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said that there were lots of expired vehicle inspection sticker tickets given out by troopers at drunk-driving checkpoints during he Fourth of July weekend.
"We've got people who call in claiming they didn't have to have one," Turnipseed said. "It has been something that's consistently coming up."
Turnipseed said those who receive tickets can have them dismissed if they get their car inspected and provide proof of it at court.
While many may be confused about the law's status, many other drivers avoid getting the inspection to avoid costly repairs, such as getting new tires or replacing windshields, Turnipseed said.
The fine varies by county, but usually is around $125.
Dollars and sense
The Sticker Inspection Act was passed in 1977 with the intention of ensuring vehicles were safe to drive.
The inspections cost $5. Of that amount, $3 goes to the mechanic who performs the inspection. The other $2 goes to the state's general fund.
Critics of the state inspection are not difficult to find. Most say the are ineffective. Several states, including neighboring Arkansas, have done away with such laws over the past 20 years. The Mississippi House voted to end vehicle inspection stickers in 2013 by a margin of 115 to 5; bipartisanship at this level is rare.
Pat Nelson, R-Southaven, said he feels that the bill abolishing inspections has not made it through the Senate because it wasn't the Senate's idea.
"It's sad, really," Nelson said.
Nelson added that the state actually loses money on the program. He said that the House had been told that the real cost of each sticker is $7.68, more than their $5 value.
"We're losing millions of dollars that we could be put into schools or health care," Nelson said.
Mississippi Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Brown, R-Columbus, disputes that.
"It's a revenue producer, and it's going to happen one way or another," Brown said.
Brown said that if this money weren't made through tickets, it would come in the form of another tax. Although he admits that many of the inspections aren't as thorough as they need to be, the law is rooted in public safety, he said.
Inside the inspections
How through is the inspection process?
"If I want a 10-second inspection, I know where to go," Nelson said.
The inspections are supposed to include checking windshields for cracks; certifying windows for tint; checking horns, wipers and headlights for functionality; removing a wheel to check break linings; checking for hydraulic leaks and brake hoses; checking suspension parts, ball joints and tie rods; checking tire tread depth; ensuring that the exhaust system is not leaking; test driving the vehicle to test alignment and stopping ability.
At Express Service Center in Columbus, manager James Barksdale said that the inspection usually takes three-to-four minutes.
"We usually do anywhere from 10 to 30 a day," Barksdale said.
Although Barksdale said the inspections can be a hassle, there is some occasional business for the shop following inspections. Some people replace improper equipment with store products, he said.
Better luck next year
The state House of Representatives is determined to keep sending the bill through, with hopes that the Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and the Senate will bring the bill out of committees for a vote.
"We'll stay with it until we see it done," Nelson said.
Reeves is seen as a critical figure to get the bill passed into law by House members. His office said that this year the bill wasn't ready to be passed.
"Lt. Governor Reeves supports eliminating the unnecessary burden of inspection stickers," said Laura Hipp, Reeve's spokeswoman when contact for this story.
Hipp said that this year the Department of Public Safety was unsure of how to redeploy the state troopers assigned to the program, which caused the bill to die in committee.
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