In an effort to prevent abuse of the state’s antique vehicle registration system, lawmakers in Arkansas have limited the eligibility of vehicles to those 45 years and older, despite a public outcry that killed a nearly identical piece of legislation two years ago.
When State Representative Jack Fortner introduced H.B. 1547 in the Arkansas state legislature in 2017, he said the bill’s purpose wasn’t necessarily to increase revenues for the state, rather to do away with the state’s 25-year rolling cutoff for vehicles eligible for antique plates.
Ostensibly, Fortner introduced the bill to clamp down on Arkansas residents using the bill to cheaply register their older daily drivers. Rather than an annual fee, the Arkansas antique vehicle registration system, implemented in 1957, imposes a one-time $7 charge for the antique plates.
“Our understanding is that the bill’s sponsor felt that this was being abused by drivers hoping to avoid paying annual registration fees,” said Christian Robinson, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s director of state government affairs.
However, since 2006, existing state law required that anybody registering an antique vehicle with the state to also register one or more vehicles for regular transportation. Rather, Fortner, a collector himself, made clear in local media interviews at the time that his actual purpose in proposing the 45-year cutoff was to impose his personal outlook on collector cars on Arkansas law.
“There are some special interest cars from the ’90s, but there are no historic cars from the ’90s,” he told Little Rock television station KATV. In his testimony to the Arkansas legislature: “I don’t think anything good happened in the auto field after ’72.”
Fortner did not return a call requesting comment for this story.
Three days after introducing H.B. 1547, Fortner withdrew it, citing opposition from Arkansas car collectors. “Regardless of my personal feelings, I must go with the will of the people,” he said at the time.
Last month, however, Fortner introduced H.B. 1496, a bill with only minor revisions from H.B. 1547. The new bill still pushed back the antique car registration cutoff to 45 years, though it did insert the requirement that owners of cars with antique plates furnish proof of insurance coverage to the state’s Department of Finance and Administration on an annual basis and proof of ownership and registration of one or more daily drivers when applying for the antique plate.
Both bills included provisions grandfathering all existing owners of cars with antique plates.
While H.B. 1496 initially failed in the state senate last month, the chamber later expunged that vote and passed the bill, paving the way for it to be signed into law — as Act 368 — earlier this month. Thus any vehicle built between 1974 and 1994 is no longer eligible for antique plates in Arkansas. According to numbers that Fortner quoted in 2017, as many as 45 percent of the state’s antique-plated vehicles lie within that 25- to 45-year date range.
“Unfortunately, such modern classic vehicles as the 1981 De Lorean DMC-12, 1994 Toyota Supra, 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z, 1991 Acura NSX, and 1991 Dodge Viper… no longer meet the criteria required to be considered an historic vehicle,” Robinson said.
According to Robinson, SEMA’s model legislation for such recognition defines classics, antiques, and special interest vehicles as those 25 years old and older.
While a number of states have made antique vehicle registration less restrictive in recent years — this year alone, Missouri, Maine, Indiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee have all introduced legislation intended to provided some relief for owners of older cars — Fortner’s stands out as one of the few recent bills aimed at making it more restrictive. Also in 2017, Connecticut attempted to shift the definition of antique car from 20 years or older to 30 years or older, though that provision was later scrapped. And in 2015, according to Robinson, Nevada’s legislature attempted to restrict its classic vehicle registration program, though the state’s governor vetoed the legislation.
According to a SEMA notification, the SEMA Action Network intends to push for a repeal of Act 368 in the state’s net legislative session.