SEMA News—August 2020


Industry Stamps Out State-Level Threats

By Colby Martin

“Old cars” have steadily become synonymous with dollar signs in the eyes of many public officials. Proposals aimed at bankrolling vintage vehicle owners are often drafted without regard for nuance—such as the contrast between a Concours-level Delahaye (above) and a hand-me-down El Camino. Courtesy:

Protecting the automotive hobby’s faithful from unreasonable restrictions is always good for business. Nationwide, states are constantly wrenching with America’s car laws. Some states seek to promote the growth of the collector-car community, while others hope to stop it in its tracks.

Attacks from anti-hobby laws can leave a lasting impact on any portion of the ever-evolving collector market. Legislative threats to enthusiasts may not directly affect your company, but there is potential for devastation to your customer base—now and in the future. Whatever the issue, the automotive community is constantly looking to trusted industry brands like yours for political influence.

While 2020 may have begun as expected for the state legislative sessions, global health concerns significantly impacted how lawmakers went about business. For much of the spring, only eight legislatures remained active; all others suspended their sessions, adjourned on schedule or, in many cases, adjourned early. Those that remained in session or plan to return are focusing their attention on emergency responses to the most critical tasks at hand. Because of that, legislation not directly related to emergency relief or a state’s budget will likely be delayed until 2021. Those circumstances will continue to substantially affect much of the legislation facing the industry this year.

In light of recent challenges, the automotive community has reasons to rejoice despite shortened sessions across the nation. Several key triumphs have already been achieved this year, with help from SEMA Action Network (SAN) advocates. Threats to collector vehicles—particularly on the vintage side—were defeated in several states. Thanks to the age of digital media, reaching legislatures has never been easier. Consequently, lawmakers have become increasingly aware of collectors and the economic opportunities they represent.

Unfortunately, true enthusiasts have had to pay the price for those misusing laws pertaining to the privilege of specialty tags. Instances of abuse of the special registration categories intended for hobby cars and trucks have increased in some places, and sweeping corrective action has been sought by various states for years. Such proposals are often aimed at punishing offenders seeking lower registration fees for older daily drivers or attempting to avoid emissions and safety inspections. When confronted with a measure that will unfairly affect and inconvenience owners of legitimate classic vehicles, SAN forces go into action. The latest efforts targeting classic automobiles included Maryland, Washington and Wisconsin.

In Maryland, legislation was introduced to impose an emissions-inspection requirement on historic vehicles less than 40 years old, where all such vehicles are currently exempt. Based on a strong outpouring of enthusiast opposition to the measure, the bill was given an unfavorable report, its hearing was canceled, and it happily died an early death.

States have debated for years on whether to allow the display of only a single, rear-mounted license plate. If single-plate repeals are enacted, such laws fail to accommodate classic and special-interest vehicles, many of which are not originally equipped with a designated place to display a front plate. Courtesy: Betto Rodrigues/

Wisconsin proposed restricting eligibility and raising fees for collector and hobbyist vehicle registration. Here again, SAN mobilized, and the bill failed to pass prior to the required legislative deadline.

Finally, Washington state was poised to significantly restrict eligibility of collector vehicles and horseless carriages, raise the initial registration fee for collector vehicles, and restrict the use of “year of manufacture” license plates. Those bills died as the legislature adjourned, marking another significant win.

As of press time, the fates of additional anti-industry bills remain undecided. Ohio introduced legislation to repeal a single-license-plate law that is awaiting further action. Thankfully, a similar bill in Oklahoma failed to meet the required legislative deadline earlier this year. Currently, all vehicles in Oklahoma are required to display only a single, rear-mounted plate. Last year, the Ohio legislature passed a bill that removed the front plate requirement beginning in July of this year, a change that is that is expected to save the state more than $1 million per year. If enacted, these laws would fail to accommodate classic and special-interest vehicles, many of which are not originally equipped with a designated place to display a front plate. SAN-opposed legislation in Minnesota to increase the state’s standard biofuel blend from 10%–15% ethanol is also awaiting consideration.

Before this year’s session concludes, more good news potentially awaits the old-fashioned end of the industry. Fans of former military vehicles in West Virginia have already celebrated the signing of a new law to display an alternate registration insignia as opposed to a traditional license plate. Versions of SEMA-model legislation to allow for the titling and registration of former military vehicles are pending in Kansas and Michigan. SAN-sponsored legislation in Kansas clarifying the definition of antique vehicles to allow for modifications passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Previously introduced pro-industry bills benefiting collector-car and street-rod enthusiasts also await further consideration in several other states.

As state houses reopen again from coast to coast, watchful eyes will be waiting. For the latest updates on current initiatives, visit In the meantime, special thanks and congratulations are due to those who participated in supporting successful efforts thus far. Keep in mind that while anti-industry bills may not be a threat now, they can be reintroduced in the 2021 session or beyond. Therefore, please get involved now by signing-up for the SAN without cost or obligation at Encourage others to follow suit.

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