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Officials hoping to tame the tags

Having so many specialty plates - 88 in all - can be a hardship for police officers. One lawmaker hopes to cap the number.

By ALISA ULFERTS
Published January 2, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - You've seen them: specialty license plates promoting this endangered species or that professional sports team. They come in nearly every color under the sun, and Florida has 88 of them.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn says that's enough. The Republican from Ormond Beach has filed a bill that would prohibit any new specialty tags after June 30, 2004.

"I think we're at the point where we have our bases covered," Lynn said.

Lynn said local law enforcement officials in her district complain that it's becoming more difficult to tell Florida tags from out-of-state tags.

"It's a safety issue," Lynn said.

Lt. Joe Paez of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office agrees.

The faster an officer can run a tag, the sooner he or she will know whether the person in the car is a wanted felon or someone speeding home from work, Paez said.

"While you're doing the traffic stop, they (dispatch officers) are running the tag to at least tell the officer, "Heads up, that car's reported stolen in Pasco,"' Paez said.

"The main response we get is it's getting out of hand," said Bill Proffitt, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department. "In the old days you could look at a tag and know what county it was from. Those days are over."

Lynn said she's not interested in taking anyone's tag away, she just wants to stop any more new ones from getting on the road.

"I know a lot of people in the House and Senate feel the same way I do," Lynn said. "We're frequently getting into discussions of should this be on a license plate."

Since 1999, Florida has had a Choose Life license plate that raises money for adoption awareness for women with unplanned pregnancies. The plate has generated more than 40,000 original tags and renewals, but it remains Florida's most controversial license tag. Opponents of the tag said the state was inappropriately taking sides in the abortion debate.

It takes $60,000 and 15,000 signatures to get the Legislature to consider adding a new tag to the state's repertoire.

One reason Florida has so many plates is that lawmakers in 2002 exempted Florida's private colleges from those requirements, and many decided they wanted the plate.

Specialty tags raise money for various causes because the people who buy them pay additional money - from $15 to $25 - on top of regular registration fees. That extra money goes to the organization supported by the plate.

Florida's top-selling license tag for 2002, the last year for which information is available, was the Protect the Panther tag, which raised $2.7-million that year.

Specialty tags have raised about $200-million since the program began with the Challenger license plate in 1987.

Florida has tags to save whales, manatees, sea turtles and generic wildlife.

Motorists can salute veterans, fund the arts, fight breast cancer and celebrate golf.

And next year there could be another plate to support research at the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a non-profit public charity affiliated with SeaWorld.

"It has come up for discussion, and some legislators have raised the question of whether Florida has too much of a good thing," said Bob Sanchez, spokesman for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

But some tags have been retired because of lack of sales.

People must buy or renew specialty tags 8,000 times over five years, or the tags are discontinued. The Girl Scouts tags were discontinued in 2002 because they never sold enough to survive the five-year cutoff, falling short by fewer than 400.

So did the Tampa Bay Storm and the Orlando Predators, two arena football teams whose specialty tags also were discontinued in 2002 for lack of sales.

[Last modified January 2, 2004, 02:01:08]


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