Specialty license plates grow, but limits added

Saturday, May 22, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Motorists who want to tout their support for the state's fox trotting horse breeders or the Boy Scouts of America, or simply encourage others to "Be An Organ Donor," may soon be able to get special Missouri vehicle licenses plates.

In approving at least 25 new specialty plates in the recently concluded legislative session, however, the Missouri Legislature also agreed to require a much higher level of demand for a particular plate before it is issued. And most future decisions on the authorization of new types of specialty plates will no longer be made by the legislature.

Missouri currently has about 140 different types of license plates. Excluding military plates and those for government officials and agencies, Missourians have 99 different styles to choose from, although eligibility for many requires membership in a particular organization. The typical fee for a specialty plate is $25.

Despite the annual clamor for lawmakers to create even more special plates, 17 of those already on the books aren't being used by a single Missourian, including those for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, the St. Louis Rams and one that says "I'm Pet Friendly." Most of the others only have been issued to a relative few.

Under an omnibus transportation bill sponsored by state Sen. John Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, at least 200 people would have to request a particular plate before the Missouri Department of Revenue would issue it. The sponsoring organization would also have to pay a fee of up to $5,000 to cover the department's cost of producing and implementing new plates.

Dolan said the 200-plate minimum would deter some groups from requesting new plates.

"If you are not that big of an organization, there's not much we can do for you," Dolan said. "We have a lot of plates that have never been issued."

If the proposed rules were currently in place, only 13 of the 99 existing specialty plates would today be in use.

"The new specialty plate process will definitely streamline and simplify the process," said Jessica Robinson, a revenue department spokeswoman.

Under the existing guidelines, an authorized plate isn't issued until either 100 people have applied for it or 10 people have applied for it and the sponsoring group pays a $250 fee.

Gov. Bob Holden hasn't yet signed Dolan's bill or any other measures creating new plates. Last year when the state was mired in a budget crisis, Holden vetoed several license plate bills, saying the state couldn't afford the added costs. That situation has since eased.

Other proposed plates awaiting the governor's approval include those honoring the March of Dimes, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers and veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Dolan's measure also contains a provision intended to discourage lawmakers from filing future specialty plate bills.

"The idea next year is to not take precious legislative time discussing license plates," Dolan said.

The new process would be for a group to file a request to create a new plate with the revenue department. The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, which consists of senators and representatives, would have the final say.

Lawmakers can't be prevented from filing plate bills anyway, but Dolan said the Senate Transportation Committee will refuse to hear such measures as long as he is chairman, a move that would effectively kill those proposals.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has long expressed concern about the proliferation of different plate styles. Capt. Chris Ricks, a patrol spokesman, said it is often difficult for troopers to recognize different styles of plates.

"It used to be I could look at a plate and immediately tell you what state it was from," Ricks said.

The bill calls for a total redesign of Missouri's basic license plate, with implementation to begin in 2007.

The main bill is SB 1233.


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