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Legislators want a little bit more on their plates

The Arizona Legislature has had its share of the trivial to pursue.

Take the 1985 effort to pre-test legislative candidates on reading and IQ, which would have then posted the results on the ballot. Or how about the bill that would have required candidates for the Legislature to take a drug test?

In 2008, HB2833 sought to require unique serial numbers on all ammunition sold in the state – on both the bullet and inside the cartridge. The bill did give ammo-owners a full two years to dispose of all their unmarked shots.

More recently, legislators proposed a bill to prohibit vehicle surfing, the sometimes deadly sport of hanging off a moving vehicle.

It, too, failed to take wing.

But if Arizona legislators love anything, it’s license plates. Over the years, the state has authorized the creation of plates honoring everything from the pro-life to the pet friendly, amateur radio to the state’s Arizona Highways magazine. There are cancer awareness plates, Golden Rule plates and tags that salute Medal of Honor winners, Pearl Harbor survivors, police officers, firefighters and veterans.

Own a hot rod? The state has a plate for you. Model T? No problem. Classic car, horseless carriage, historic vehicle or alternative fueler? Come on down.

Approved earlier this year, but not yet ready to bolt on, is a plate promoting the slogan “In God We Trust.”

Heading into the January session, lawmakers have readied two additional license plate measures for consideration.

HB2005 would add Masons to the ever-expanding list of organizations that qualify for special plates. If approved, the Masonic Fraternity would have to pony up a $32,000 fee before the end of the next year, then submit a design for approval by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Motorists interested in a Mason plate would pay a $25 annual fee, $8 of which would go to the State Highway Fund. The remainder, less up to 10 percent for administration costs, would go back to Masons for use in the group’s charitable efforts.

The fees match DMV charges and charitable refunds for other special plates.

A Senate bill, S1002, would drop the $25 annual fee on existing special plates that recognize handicapped veterans and families that have lost a member in war.

Right now, the state has more than 40 plates, including regular and disability plates. Other special plates promote the Arizona Diamondbacks or support child abuse prevention, former prisoners of war and the White Mountain Apache Tribe, among others.

By comparison, New York offers more than 200 special plates, including ones promoting any NBA team, including the Phoenix Suns.

Professor Bruce Merrill, a pollster from Arizona State University, said measures such as license plate legislation might not be glamorous, but they are state business that needs to be addressed.

“I’d suspect if you went through a list of them, some of them would seem pretty superficial or superfluous. But, you know, a lot of them are things that do affect people,” he said.

Given the state of the state’s economy, legislative leaders are pleased the plate measures have been limited to just two. So far.

“Clearly, this year we really need to prioritize the budget,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios, the Senate assistant minority leader. “I would hope that all the members would practice some restraint and only introduce those that are truly important.”

Judy Burges, Republican from Skull Valley, said lawmakers should, indeed, take time to craft legislation for new custom license plates.

“The Masons and the Shriners are very, very busy out there doing a lot of the things that we hope that more independent organizations would do,” she said. “And so what this does is it gives them funds to support their charitable causes. So, yes, I think we do have time for this license plate.”

Bill Branson, the general manager of Arizona Correctional Industries, said some specialty license plates do quite well, particularly the personalized plates. They also made about 10,000 Phoenix Suns plate last year.

But Branson said there are several license plates that aren’t big sellers. Last year, his division didn’t even produce any plates commemorating the Fraternal Order of Police, wildlife conservation, the environment, Pearl Harbor, the Arizona National Guard and firefighters.

Oh, and that 1985 measure on IQ tests? Legislators were smart enough to defeat it.

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