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Michigan military vehicles not even approved for parade use after licensing bill vetoed

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After vetoing a bill designed to permit licensing of surplus military vehicles for street use in Michigan, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has effectively made it impossible to drive military vehicles in parades or other on-road functions throughout the state, according to a group of military vehicle enthusiasts who fought to get the bill passed.

“It just killed us; all that work we did was for naught,” said Chuck Chapman, a Detroit-area member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. “If what Snyder is saying is true, then the National Guard shouldn’t be driving their vehicles on the highway, and that’s just ridiculous.”

The bill in question, S.B. 1040, which senators Hoon-Yung Hopgood, Rick Jones, and Steven Bieda introduced in May of last year, would have effectively legitimized surplus wheeled military vehicles in Michigan – specifically those over 25 years old – by including them in the state’s definition for historic vehicles. Tracked and half-tracked vehicles would have been excluded from the definition.

In December, with the state’s legislative session coming to an end, the bill rapidly passed the state senate (by a vote of 35 to 1) and the state house (by a vote of 106 to 3) before landing on Snyder’s desk. However, in a flurry of last-minute vetos on December 28, Snyder struck down S.B. 1040, noting that he believed it was inappropriate for military vehicles to be registered to drive on the street.

“Were this bill to take effect, vehicles that were never manufactured or intended for on road passenger use could be registered and permitted on public streets and roads,” Snyder wrote in his veto letter.

Chapman scoffed at that notion. “If what Snyder is saying is true, then the National Guard shouldn’t be driving their vehicles on the highway, that they endanger other motorists while driving,” he said. “That’s just ridiculous.”

He noted that the entire issue stems from the fact that military vehicles are exempt from 1981 federal statutes which require 17-digit vehicle identification numbers for passenger vehicles sold to the general public. Thus, when military vehicles are sold as surplus, they are sold with a form SF97 – equivalent to a title for government vehicles – that uses a six-digit VIN.

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office – which handles vehicle titling and registration in the state – assigned clear titles and license plates to surplus military vehicles up until recently, when a number of surplus AM General HMMWVs entered the state bearing SF97 forms stamped “Off Road Only” by overly cautious federal contractors, according to Chapman.

“Then they started saying that these vehicles were only allowed to get ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) titles and they stopped titling them for the road,” Chapman said. Just as with some Texas-based dune buggy owners, some military vehicle owners in the state – in particular those with AM General-built vehicles – even started to receive letters notifying them that the Secretary of State’s office had revoked their vehicle’s title and license plates.

Chapman said he approached the Secretary of State’s office to argue in favor of titling and registering military vehicles, pointing out that under Military Standard 1180B every wheeled military vehicle must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

“It has seat belts, turn signals, bumpers, reflectors, all the same stuff your car and mine has,” he said. “But they didn’t care, so what do you do? If the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t change their policy, we change the law.”

He said some military vehicle owners during this period did – either accidentally or surreptitiously – obtain titles for their former military vehicles that misstated their origins as civilian vehicles. For instance, some HMMWV owners obtained titles that stated their vehicles were GM-marketed Hummer H1s.

However, Tom Tibortz, who was issued an ORV title for his street-bound 1993 HMMWV M998, said the secretary of state essentially forced those owners to circumvent existing rules. Tibortz, dismayed that he couldn’t title his HMMWV for the street, instead contacted Hopgood and, with Chapman’s help, began to advocate for S.B. 1040.

“It was a non-controversial bill, very cut and dry, very clear,” he said. “It’s crazy, it just baffles my mind how Snyder could veto it.”

Over the last couple of years, a number of other state legislatures have proposed similar bills qualifying surplus military vehicles for on-road registration, with at least four – Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon – passing their versions. Tiboritz said, however, that he has a feeling many other state legislators have looked to see how Michigan has dealt with the issue before tackling it themselves.

With Snyder term-limited out of office, a new secretary of state in place, and a new session of the state legislature already underway, both Chapman and Tiboritz said they plan to lobby first for a change in policy with the new secretary of state and, if that doesn’t work, then advocate for another bill similar to S.B. 1040.