New specialty plates head to Washington

Posted: Sunday, August 08, 2004

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) For years, Washington motorists have enjoyed zany vanity license plates or plates featuring their favorite state college. Soon they'll have more choices of specialized plates.

And the iconic Mount Rainier may disappear from some of the plates.

Washington hasn't had a new specialty plate issued in the last eight years, since a stadium plate was authorized in 1996 to help pay for the new Safeco Field for the Mariners.

For years, then-House Transportation Chair Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma, kept her foot on all bills authorizing new plates, fearing they would sell so poorly that the state would get stuck with production costs. In 1993, for instance, a plate was authorized to honor square dancing, the state dance, but only a thousand were sold and the state has thousands sitting in a warehouse, she said.

But under a new state law, sponsoring groups will get the state's approval only if they front the production cost of about $28,000 or pay $2,000 and gather 2,000 signatures from motorists who say they'll buy a plate.

The first three new plates will be available soon. A plate sponsored by a nonprofit charitable group called Help Kids Speak, will be out in November.

Plates sponsored by the Washington State Council of Firefighters and backers of the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial will be available in January.

Gonzaga University in Spokane and the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect have gathered signatures and will go before a review board in September and the Legislature next winter for expected approval.

Six more groups or agencies also are hoping to qualify.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife wants six plate designs a bald eagle, black bear, deer, elk, mallard duck and pheasant.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs wants plates for each service branch.

The Washington State Firefighters Association, the council of volunteer firefighters, also is looking for signatures.

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington, coastal lighthouse buffs and animal lovers also hope to qualify.

If the Legislature approves the new plates, they will be available the next year.

The plates typically cost $40 and an annual renewal fee of $30. The state keeps $12 for overhead and the organization can use the rest for its own projects. There is no limit to what groups charge for the plates, but none has gone above $40 so far.

Besides good advertising, the plates can be a fund-raising bonanza. The most popular college plate, for Washington State University, generated $22,000 in one recent month, enriching the Cougar scholarship fund.

''You spend a lot of time in traffic, so you might as well have something interesting to read,'' Chris Jamieson of the child abuse council told The Olympian newspaper.

Inmates at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla make the state's license plates. The prison is soliciting bids to upgrade to digital technology, allowing full color.

The Legislature recently erased the requirement that Mount Rainier serve as the background image for all specialty plates, giving sponsors more design flexibility. The Medal of Honor plate is the only specialty plate now without The Mountain.

On the Net:

Licensing: http://www.dol.wa.gov

Firefighters: http://www.wsffa.org

Veterans: http://www.dva.wa.gov

Fish & Wildlife: http://www.wdfw.wa.gov

Bicycle Alliance: http://bicyclealliance.org

Lighthouses: http://www.admiraltyhead.wsu.edu

Animal lovers: http://www.palc.org

Information from: The Olympian, http://www.theolympian.com



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