Andy Libby rotates tires on a car at Kimball’s Garage in South Portland in December. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

By just a six-vote margin, the Maine House of Representatives has approved legislation that would increase the fee for motor vehicle inspections to pay for an electronic system that police say is long overdue.

The House voted 74-68 late Thursday night to pass L.D. 900, which now goes to the Maine Senate.

If the bill is approved in the Senate and is backed by Gov. Janet Mills, the annual fee for motor vehicle inspections would increase from $12.50 to $20, except in Cumberland County, where it would go up from $18.50 to $20. Cumberland County is the only Maine county that requires an emissions test as part of inspections, which is why the fee has been higher there.

The bill had near-unanimous support in the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee. But that didn’t translate to the House, where both Democrats and Republicans spoke for and against it.

“This bill as amended modernizes Maine’s motor vehicle program in ways that make it more efficient, more effective and more sustainable,” said Rep. Dan Ankeles, D-Brunswick.

The measure was drafted after recommendations from a study group that convened last year. Maine is one of only three states that does not have an electronic inspection system, although a majority of states don’t require inspections at all.


During a public hearing last month, Lt. Bruce Scott of the Maine State Police Traffic Safety Unit said a new system would help reduce fraud, deter black-market trading of inspection stickers and simplify work for inspectors. No one spoke in opposition.

The digital system allows police to tell if a vehicle has failed even if it appears to have a valid sicker. The bills also would prevent motorists from shopping around to find a garage that could pass an unsafe vehicle.

Some lawmakers said the fee increase would disproportionately affect low-income Mainers, who already struggle to find and keep vehicles that can pass inspection.

“We know the inspection process hurts the poor the most. This is a regressive system,” said Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, adding that he fears some smaller garages are not going to want to modernize and will just stop inspecting vehicles.

The initial bill indicated state police would not require use of a new electronic system, or would allow some garages to opt out. That was amended after the Mills administration raised concerns.

Rep. Sophie Warren, D-Scarborough, said she agreed that reforming the standards for passing inspection is important but said all this bill would do is put the burden on consumers.


Rep. Cheryl Golek, D-Harpswell, said she hasn’t seen any data that support the claim that inspecting cars makes roads safer – if the state really wanted to modernize, it would do away with the requirement, she said.

Maine lawmakers have debated numerous proposals over the years to do just that, but they have always been rejected, including this year. There was also a measure to require inspection every two years instead of annually, but that failed as well.

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, a longtime member of the Transportation Committee, reminded colleagues that the current fee of $12.50 was set 22 years ago, when the minimum wage was $5.75. He said most of the increase would go directly to the garages.

“If we’re going to do this, we need to let the garages charge a little more,” he said. “We should at least cover the cost of their labor.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, said the modernization effort would be rolled out over a period of about two years by a private company contracted with the state. It’s not clear when fees would begin increasing.

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