It’s disappointing that Nebraska is on the brink of joining the minority of states that require only one license plate on the back of vehicles, taking away a valuable tool for solving crimes.
A stark example of how the lack of a front license plate can hamstring an investigation is the cold-blooded killing of convenience store clerk Leah Rowlands in Cozad in 1997.
Surveillance video showed the killer pulling up to the gas pump at the Amoco station, and filling his car with gasoline. The Grand Am has no front license plate.
At 10:28 the barefoot man, with his sweat pants oddly hitched up around his knees, enters the station and wanders around, then gets a soda from the cooler, opens it and gets a drink.
He says something. Rowlands opens the cash register, hands him money and lies down on the floor.
At 10:33 the driver pulls a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol from his right pocket, leans over the counter and fires three shots at point-blank range. One bullet goes through Rowland’s skull.
At 10:34 the killer returns to the Grand Am with his soda, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, $150 and a full tank of gasoline.
The video tape captured a brief glimpse of the car’s rear plate as it sped away, but it was too fuzzy to read, even when the video tape was enhanced by NASA years later.
Solving the homicide would have been a snap, if the Grand Am had a front license plate, the Nebraska State Patrol’s cold case investigator told the Journal Star in 2004.
LB53, introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, would allow one license plate with a front windshield sticker if a driver paid an extra $100 fee annually. The bill needs only final round approval before it goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The rationale, weak as it is, offered in support of the change is that apparently some motorists are offended by the sight of a front plate and bracket on the dramatically sculpted front of a roadster.
Those aesthetic sensibilities shouldn’t be allowed to rob law enforcement of an important way of identifying criminals.
To be sure, the necessity of paying $100 a year will probably keep the number of cars on the road with only a rear plate to a minimum. But it’s a step in the wrong direction. Sen. Bill Kintner, for example, has already suggested that Nebraska could simply eliminate the two-plate requirement for all vehicles.
Thirty-one states now require front and rear plates. No state has eliminated the two-plate requirement for the past three decades. State senators should pay more heed to testimony from law enforcement and kill the bill.