House moves Auburn license plates

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New specialty plates? It's the Senate's move.

This could be the year Alabama’s Auburn University gets a Florida specialty license plate.

The House passed a bill Wednesday from Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican and Auburn alum, who is sponsoring legislation (HB 1135) to revamp how the state creates specialty license plates. 

The Senate bill did not move, but the body still could take up this vital legislation.

Grant’s bill would cap the number of specialty tags at 125 and allow new tags to replace the lowest performing ones in the program. He said 125 is a consensus number and having more than that can make it difficult for law enforcement to scan that many specialty license plate tags.

A recent Florida Politics story by Noah Pransky reported on the Florida Department of Transportation’s SunPass auto-recognition system struggling to read the state’s various kinds of tags. Pransky found that Toll-By-Plate transactions that have to be manually reviewed can cost the state millions.

Grant said he’d be concerned if the state can’t read 125 images, but it should be a simple fix.

“I’m not sure why we’re having that problem,” he said earlier this year.

The legislation creates specialty plates for three out-of-state schools: Auburn University, the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. The proceeds from sales from those plates would go to Florida students attending those colleges. Students would have to be eligible for the Florida Bright Futures Program.

Grant said he’s not the only one who wants an Auburn tag, there’s alumni throughout the state who are also pushing for this.

Past efforts to get specialty plates for Auburn and other out-of-state universities previously have made it as far as the House floor, but have struggled to gain traction in the Senate.

“At the end of the day, I don’t see how it’s a real difficult thing to allow tax-paying Floridians to electively spend their money how they’d like to,” he said.

Grant says Florida specialty tags also raise money for homelessness programs, pediatric cancer treatments and military families. He hopes to get his legislation through this year.

The proposal was opposed by House Democrats for failing to include long-sought plates for nine black fraternities and sororities dubbed the “Divine 9.”

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Windermere Democrat, said supporters of plates for the Greek service organizations have been told for eight years to “wait,” which “almost always means no.”

“If we’re going to have 150 specialty license plates here in the state of Florida, we ought to make sure that in terms of ethnic groups, in terms of colleges and universities, that it is fair and there is some objective criteria in recommending these license plates,” Thompson said.

Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called it ironic that Georgia and Alabama offer specialty plates for the “Divine 9” organizations.

Grant said he gave backers of the “Divine 9” plates an opportunity to submit a single “super tag” template that could be used for the different organizations.

“I’ll still honor that deal despite the rhetoric in this chamber suggesting that in some capacity a decision about license tags has anything to do with racial discrimination,” Grant said.

Among the proposed new designs would be for Ducks Unlimited, The Dan Marino Foundation, the Florida State Beekeepers Association, Rotary, the Florida National Parks Association, the St. Lucie County Education Foundation, Orlando City Soccer, the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Backers of each plate would have 60 days to submit designs. That would be followed by a two-year period to reach a pre-sale level of at least 3,000 plates, up from 1,000, before the tags could move forward. Supporters of the out-of-state universities would have to get 4,000 pre-sales.

Each plate would have to maintain those numbers or, starting July 1, 2022, be discontinued if below the new sales benchmark for 12 consecutive months.

If a plate fails to reach the pre-sale minimum, people who have pre-bought could opt for different designs or get refunds.

Plates for Florida colleges, some of which are the lowest sellers, would be exempt from the minimum sales requirement.

According to data compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV), specialty plates have been growing in popularity. The state currently offers 120 specialty plates which are showcased on a combined 1.6 million cars, up from 1.36 million in 2014.

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The News Service of Florida and Florida Politics’ Sarah Mueller and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.

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