Despite Moratorium, Another Bumper Crop of Specialty Tags

Jan 20, 2016

Despite an official moratorium on new specialty license tags, lawmakers are piling on more this year. However, they also want to make it harder to create them and easier to retire them.

It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Every year, lawmakers come to the Capitol with wheel barrows full of specialty license plates on behalf of favorite charities, or in some cases, a political cause.

This year, powerful committee chairs are trying to staunch the flow. But with more than 15 new plates being proposed, it’s not easy saying no.

In 2008, the Legislature enacted a moratorium on new specialty license plates. Again. In 2008, the Legislature enacted a moratorium on new specialty license plates.

Judging by Wednesday’s agenda, the House Highway and Waterway Safety Subcommittee never got the memo. Here’s Democratic Representative Irv Slosberg of Delray Beach.

“Thank you Madame Chair. The bill is the I Stand With Israel license plate. Currently, there’s a large organization that takes mostly Jewish students…uh, this license plate is going to fund trips to Israel.”

And here’s Republican Representative Jim Boyd of Bradenton.

“Committee members. This is a pretty simple bill but a big issue. House Bill 511 will create a specialty license plates for recipients of the Bronze Star.”

And here’s the committee chairman, Republican Representative Greg Steube of Sarasota.

“This amendment directs DHSMV to create Dogs Making a Difference specialty plate. It’s for the Southeastern Guide Dogs.”

When it comes to specialty tags, Steube has one foot on the gas and another on the brakes.

Steube is sponsoring a bill that makes it harder for organizations to get a plate into production. It would also discontinue most plates when sales fell below 4,000 in any 12-month period.

The committee passed that bill first.

But then, Fraternal Order of Police lobbyist Lisa Henning added yet another layer of irony. She tried, unsuccessfully to exempt the FOP plate from the minimum sales requirements.

“It is restricted only to the law enforcement, so it is no sold to the general public. So it takes longer to get up to the time period.”

Lawmakers imposed the moratorium after police complained it was harder to tell whether cars with specialty plates were from Florida.

Here’s how hard it is for lawmakers to say no to specialty tags. Back in 2008 when the moratorium was imposed, there were 113 of them.  Now there are more than 120.

If Stuebe’s sales restrictions were in place today, legislative analysts say 28 plates, including the FOP tag, would go extinct.

That may not be enough to satisfy Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. He considers the annual clamor a distraction.

“One of the concerns is that these license plates are starting to become a sideshow. And so we have to get this under control.”

Doing that, of course, won’t be easy.

This session, lawmakers are proposing more than 15 new specialty plates. They urge motorists to support everything from tarpon and wild turkeys, to the Constitution.