License plate production spurs questions

The Legislative Counsel wants to know why Nevada’s 150th birthday plates are being made in Oregon, in violation of state law.

The Department of Motor Vehicles’ director replies that although they’re being manufactured in Portland, they’re being “produced” in Nevada.

Nevada law in NRS482.267 states, “The director shall utilize the facility for the production of license plates which is located at the Department of Corrections to produce all license plates required by the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The dark-blue plates with the “Battle Born” insignia and embossed letters are being made by Irwin Hodson Co. of Portland because DMV officials say their equipment and that of 3M, which supplies the state’s plate materials, can’t make the plates.

Gerald Gardner, chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said the request for an explanation was sent to DMV Director Troy Dillard.

“There’s a lot more to production than manufacturing,” Dillard said on Tuesday. “Manufacturing is a portion of producing the plate.”

While the plates are made in Portland, Dillard said, the rest of the production process occurs at the “tag plant” in the old Nevada State Prison — including the paperwork, repackaging and shipping of plates to DMV offices statewide.

Because of that work, he said, the department is complying with the law that pays the “tag plant” program 50 cents for each plate. That money supports the program and pays the inmates who make Nevada license plates.

Gardner said he agrees with Dillard’s logic, arguing that the law doesn’t say every aspect of production has to be done in Nevada.

The DMV and the governor’s office already have been criticized for awarding the contract to an out-of-state company.

Dillard said that his department soon will buy new equipment for the license plate plant being constructed outside the fence at Northern Nevada Correctional Center at Carson’s southern border. When that happens, he said, he will look at whether it’s worth buying the specialized equipment the Oregon company uses so the DMV can bring the manufacturing process home.

Nevada can still produce embossed plates with raised letters and numbers, but Sean McDonald, administrator of DMV’s Central Services, said there were serious problems with doing so. The most serious, he said, is that with a very dark background and raised white or yellow numbers, the plate is unreadable at night. He said the department took a sample plate 20 feet down a dark hallway and, with the lights low, “the numbers absolutely disappear into the background.”

“That’s why most plates have light backgrounds and dark letters,” Dillard said.

Asked about Nevada’s historic “blue plates,” which have a dark-blue background and white letters, McDonald said those are flat plates using 3M technology and that when they’re embossed, it breaks the film and the letters don’t last.

Asked why they didn’t change the design to something Nevada’s equipment could produce, Public Information Officer David Fierro said simply, “the design was decided on by a whole bunch of folks.” It came from the Sesquicentennial Commission and the governor’s office.

Fierro said the sesquicentennial plate is very specialized, incorporating not only multiple colors, reflective paint and the very dark-blue background but the embossing. The DMV officials said the only company they could find that could make the design properly was the Oregon one.

The specialty plate is one of more than 100 authorized for use in Nevada, and less than two months after its introduction July 25, it’s proving extremely popular. McDonald said the department already has sold 2,052 of them, raising some $55,000 for the Sesquicentennial Commission to spend on Nevada’s yearlong 150th anniversary of statehood, which kicks off Oct. 31.


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