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Facing envelope shortage, R.I. to miss law’s deadline for new license plates

But it’s not solely because of envelopes — some of the new plates will be in stock at the DMV, rather than mailed directly to drivers.

The new license plate, designed by South Kingstown resident Willem Van Lancker, is an homage to the old design.Rhode Island DMV

When Rhode Island lawmakers passed the budget last year, they made things very clear: New license plates shall — not may, shall — be issued to car owners starting July 1, 2022.

But the new license plates — a riff on the current “Wave” design — likely won’t start appearing on the roads until some time in September, when the Division of Motor Vehicles will have them in stock to issue to people who get new registrations. And people likely won’t start swapping out their old “Wave” plates with new “Wave” plates until October or even November, the state says.

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The delay, Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi said, is in part due to a delay in production of the specialty envelopes used to mail license plates. The state’s vendor, 3M, confirmed there are production problems with these envelopes, due to a paper shortage.

But it’s not solely because of envelopes — after all, some of the new plates will be in stock at the DMV, rather than mailed directly to drivers. Those stock plates still might not be ready until September. The situation has prompted frustration from the lawmaker who advocated for the state to redesign its license plate. State Sen. Louis DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, blamed the delay not on the DMV, but on the office of Gov. Dan McKee, which he said was slow to act with approvals.

“It’s about saying what you’re doing and doing what you’re saying,” DiPalma said.

Alana O’Hare, McKee’s press secretary, said reissuing the state’s license plates has been overdue for 10 years.

“Governor McKee is the first Governor to be able to get it done,” O’Hare said. “Following the delays that the DMV has faced due to supply and production issues with 3M, the new plates will be ready in September for distribution beginning in October, which is in accordance with RI law that states owners will be issued a new, fully reflective plate beginning on July 1, 2022.”

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DiPalma noted that Rhode Island has a long and complicated history when it comes to new license plates. Swapping out the designs periodically will help the authorities spot unregistered, uninspected, and uninsured cars, DiPalma said. People with current “Wave” plates will pay a one-time $8 surcharge to get the new one when their registration is up, which happens every two years.

DiPalma credits McKee with doing something that multiple predecessors failed to do: get a replacement for the “Wave,” on Rhode Island roadways for two and a half decades. The McKee administration announced a contest to design the new state’s license plate late last year.

The DMV and McKee’s office selected five finalists and the public got to vote on the favorite, which turned out to be an explicit homage to the current plate.

The winner, though, wasn’t unveiled until April. The state’s contract with 3M said it would take about six months of lead time between getting the new design and issuing the new plates.

But McKee’s administration, DiPalma said, had long known it would take six months to get the new plates out. The DMV was ready to act soon after the state passed the budget last summer, DiPalma said. But McKee’s office was not, he said.

“It’s not like this is anything that just sprung up,” DiPalma said. “It’s an issue of safety, security, and state promotion.”

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Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.