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Ronald Reagan License Plate To Help Fund Fla. Alzheimer’s Research Gets Bipartisan Support

Ronald Reagan Centennial Foundation
A sample license plate

There are more than 120 specialty license plates in Florida, and some Florida lawmakers are hoping to add several more to that list. It includes a “President Ronald Reagan” license plate that will also go toward helping fight the disease he had in the latter years of his life.

Speaking years ago on Larry King Live, Nancy Reagan recalled the hardest part of taking care of her husband—former President Ronald Reagan—who was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s sad to see somebody you love and have been married for so long and you can’t share memories. That’s the sad part,” Nancy Reagan said, on the former CNN show in 2001.

There’s speculation that Ronald Reagan may have had the disease during his presidency, but Reagan himself disclosed his illness a few years after his two terms in the 1990s. That admission helped shed light on the disease.

With an ever growing older population, Florida has one of the highest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the nation. A form of dementia, it can cause memory loss and confusion.

And, Rep. Rick Roth (R-Loxahatchee) knows firsthand what it’s like to help care for someone with the disease.

“My wife chose to help her aunt, who just turned 89-years-old, was living in Columbus, Ohio, and is now living in our home in South Florida,” he said, during a Wednesday House committee meeting. “She's 89-years-old and she has dementia. And, as an example, she’s lived in Florida now for five months. She still thinks she’s living in Ohio.”

That’s why Roth says his bill creating a license plate featuring “President Ronald Reagan” is important.

“This is a specialty license plate bill, honoring our 40th President,” he added. “50 percent of the proceeds will go for Alzheimer’s disease [research]. The money will be administrated—as it says in the bill—by the Ronald Reagan Centennial Incorporated, which is a nonprofit organization that set up shop in Orlando, Florida a year ago and they will administer the funds.”

The bill hits close to home with Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg).

“President Reagan—Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing…I saw when it was taking him over…I recently lost my wife’s mom to Alzheimer’s and it was a terrible situation,” he said. “I mean, to see when her mom got very, very ill with it, she couldn’t even recognize her own daughter. It was heart-wrenching. I’m glad to see that at least half of it is going to ongoing research, and that’s important.”

It also strikes a chord with Rep. Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna).

“This is a very serious issue, and I don’t think anybody on this committee doesn’t have someone very close to them or know someone in their family probably at some point in time struggled with this disease,” he said. “My grandmother suffered from this disease, and it’s very sad. So, I commend you for doing this. I don’t know why we haven’t done this thus far, but I appreciate you bringing it forward.”

While the bill recently passed its first House committee, its Senate companion has not yet had a hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.