New specialty license plates hit Florida roads

The specialty tag for Lauren's Kids became available in 2014. (Handout, Lauren's Kids)

The specialty license plate spigot has been tightened in the last few years, but there are still drops getting through including two new plates on the road this year and at least four new potential plates being considered by lawmakers.

In 2008, a moratorium was placed on the creation of specialty tags after a succession of years in which multiple new plates made it to Florida roads. There are 122 plates available today.

The moratorium called for no new plates, with one exception that has seen even more come through the system since 2008 and may see more still. That exception allowed for any plate already in the process of approval to continue to seek legislative action.

That loophole allowed for four new plates in 2013, although there's also now a 1,000-plate preorder requirement before the state will actually produce any new plates. Each plate's sponsoring organization has two years to drum up the 1,000 preorders. If they don't reach that goal, the plate will never come to be.


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Of the four passed in 2013, two have already been put into production, with the first Florida Freemasons plate hitting the roads in February and the Lauren's Kids plate appearing for the first time just this month.

Lauren's Kids, a nonprofit that fights child sexual abuse and supports its victims, reached their 1,000-preorder threshold in January. At that point, those who had made preorders received notification that they could now get their new plates.

"It's a hard thing to get people to preorder something, because it's something intangible," said Claire Van Susteren, communication director for Lauren's Kids. "So we are happy our supporters felt strongly enough about the plate to get the preorders in."

Van Susteren was in Tallahassee along with Lauren's Kids founder Lauren Book for their fifth annual "Walk in My Shoes" event to help raise awareness for the organization's cause. Book said getting enough preorder support required a lot of trial and error.

"It was truly a difficult effort but one we're excited to accomplish," said Book. "We're thankful to the Legislature to bring these tags into existence and to further the education of the population about childhood sexual abuse."

At the same time, the new plates are now available at the DMV for random drivers to potentially buy. The eye-catching Lauren's Kids plate titled "Loving Healing" features a heart that was designed by noted pop artist Romero Britto.

"There was one woman who was at the walk who said, 'I picked your plate at the DMV because it was pretty and then found out more and came out to the walk,' Van Susteren said. "So it's been a different and neat way to raise awareness."

The other two plates approved in 2013, which have until June 30, 2015 to garner the required 1,000 preorders have a ways to go. As of April 1, a plate for the American Legion had only 105 preorders while a plate to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters had only 70, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. A spokesperson for the American Legion, though, said his group was gathering commitments through their own website and plans to submit more in bulk in the future.

"We're going very well," said Jerry Mullenix, department assistant adjutant for The American Legion, Department of Florida. "We anticipate a huge influx in June at our convention."

Mullenix said the group has 417 preorders lined up to date and that the June convention could push them close to the 1,000 target.

The moratorium on new plates expires on July 1 this year, although at least one bill from the Florida Senate is seeking to extend it another two years. Still, the loophole has allowed several specialty tags to continue to seek approval.

A bill moving through the Florida Senate this year may add four more specialty tags to the mix. Those include a plate titled "A Hero Remembered Never Dies" and supports Police and Kids Foundation, Inc., aimed at supporting families of fallen police officers. The others are for the Florida Sheriff's Association, the Moffitt Cancer Center and Keiser University. The bill, CS/CS/SB 132, has made it through a second reading on April 23 and is on the calendar for a third reading. The Moffitt Cancer Center and Keiser plates were amended to the bill during the second reading while attempts to add two other plates were withdrawn.

That same bill seeks to give a reprieve of sorts to two low-performing plates: Hispanic Achievers, which has only 398 plates sold in the state and the St. Johns River plate, which has only 622. Both should under current Florida law cease production because they averaged less than 1,000 plates sold over the last 12 months. This bill would instead put the two plates into a two-year probationary period that acts in the same way as newly approved plates.

The DMV would stop selling new plates, although existing plates would be allowed to retain them. Instead, both plates would as of July 1, 2014 need to hit the 1,000-plate threshold through a combination of preorders and existing plates. Once reached, they could go back into production. If that threshold was not met by June 30, 2016, the plates would be retired.

Seven specialty plates have been retired under this 1,000-plate threshold in the past including those for Arena Football League teams Orlando Predators and Tampa Bay Storm as well as a plate that raised money for the Girl Scouts of America.

Other bills this year that have not moved very far in the Legislature attempted to secure specialty tags for Team Hammy, which raises money to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, for Rotary's Camp Florida, Florida Homebuilders, Pan-Hellenic Sorority & Fraternity, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the Play Ball plate for American Dream Baseball. There was also a plate titled "Sun, Sea, and Smiles" with funds going to promote health and wellness among Florida residents of Caribbean descent.

Specialty tags cost $15-$25 more than regular registration with the extra money going to support the plate's sponsor charity. Sales of the tags, which had lagged in 2012 climbed in 2013 with more than 137,000 new tags coupled with 1.2 million renewals. Funds from the sales created $34 million for the plates' various organizations, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Not every plate can be a winner, but at least one of the newer plates has shot up since its introduction in 2011. Endless Summer, which raises money for Surfing's Evolution and Preservation Foundation and features a silhouetted surfer against a sunrise had more than 20,000 plates on Florida roads in 2013, up from 12,700 in 2012. It ranks 18th and continues to grow in popularity. The top-selling plate in the state is for the University of Florida, which had more than 96,000 sold or renewed in 2013. Half of the state's plates have less than 5,000 on the road.

rtribou@tribune.com, 407-420-5134