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A vintage Ford, sporting the classic green mountain license plate design, being prepped for an auto show in the garage at O'Meara Ford in Northglenn on Aug. 7 2019. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The green mountains are (really) poised for a comeback next year. 

Colorado lawmakers are quickly advancing legislation that would make the state’s retro license plates — green mountains instead of white ones — available for an upcharge as soon as 2022. That’s thanks to Senate Bill 69, which also would require Coloradans to get new plates when they purchase a new or used car.

The retro plates would cost up to $75 extra, with $25 of that going to a disability support fund. 

Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican and champion of the legislation, tried last year to bring back the green license plates, but the 2020 bill was vetoed by Gov. Jared Polis because of a problem with the legislation. It allowed the state Division of Motor Vehicles to collect new fees but not spend them.

“We encourage the sponsors and the General Assembly to bring this bill again next session,” Polis, a Democrat, wrote in his veto letter.

Priola listened — and made some changes. Last year’s bill would have switched all new Colorado plates to the retro style. But under the 2021 bill, the white mountains stay put as the default plate and the old-school option is a specialty plate like one you might buy if you’re a Colorado College alumnus or a fan of Nolan Arenado’s former baseball team.

The one hitch: If not enough people want the retro plates, they may not become available. That seems unlikely, though. 

Access to the retro-style plates is just a perk of the legislation. Priola says the real reason for the bill has to do with public safety. 

Right now, motorists can keep their license plates forever. That’s problematic because over time the numbers fade, making it difficult for law enforcement to read them and impossible for toll-road cameras to scan them. 

Priola was recently driving to the Capitol and saw a Toyota Corolla with a rear license plate so faded it looked like the numbers were covered in Wite-Out.

A Colorado license plate so faded that the letters and numbers are unreadable. (Kevin Priola, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Also, people have been known to skirt registration fees by paying rates for older vehicles attached to their old plates even when they purchase a new car. Older cars have cheaper annual registration fees. Priola said the goal is to protect state coffers from being drained by people abusing the system that way. 

“It forces folks to actually be upholding the law,” he said. 

If you like your license plate’s numbers and letters and don’t want to change them when you buy a new car, you would be able to keep them for a fee under Senate Bill 69.

(In case you are wondering, there are currently 180 license plate types in Colorado.)

Senate Bill 69 cleared its first committee hearing with unanimous support on Monday. 

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul