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Farewell, special plates? Panel advances bill that would scrap most

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A House panel endorsed a bill Thursday that would put the brakes on many of the special license plates that allow Arizonans to display support for various causes.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, the bill’s author, said the plates confuse law enforcement and witnesses to crimes and put state government in the role of fundraiser.

“If you want to express yourself or show your support for an organization, your bumper is available for a bumper sticker,” he said in an interview.

The House Transportation Committee endorsed HB 2313 on a 4-2 vote, with one member abstaining.

Through the state Department of Transportation, Arizona offers dozens of plates promoting groups and causes such as breast cancer research and child abuse prevention.

Private organizations that sponsor special plates are required to contribute $32,000 to cover the cost of creating them. Drivers pay $25 to purchase special plates and $25 per year to renew, with $17 going to the organization and $8 to ADOT.

Farley’s bill would require ADOT to stop issuing new special license plates after Jan. 1, 2013. Those who have special plates would be able to renew but not replace them.

The measure would affect plates tied to private groups. Special plates issued to members of certain groups, such as veterans or drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, would still be available.

Farley said he’s grown frustrated as lawmakers have continued to propose and approve special plates, adding that he doesn’t want to see Arizona follow the lead of Maryland, which has more than 700.

“This would finally end the insanity,” he said.

Farley’s bill would have renewal fees go into the Highway User Revenue Fund after five years. Building in that time, he said, would allow organizations to prepare for the cutoff and, in the case of newer plates, continue recouping their investments.

Frank Yoke, director of development for the Grand Canyon Council of Boy Scouts of America, said it’s difficult to tell if five years would be enough to make up the $32,000 the council contributed toward the Boy Scouts of Arizona plate issued late last year.

“It’s unfortunate that it would take funding away from a lot of people,” Yoke said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, voted against Farley’s bill along with Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, but said special plates receive too much attention from the Legislature.

“We’ve taken so much time away from real issues,” Williams said.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who abstained, said she was concerned about organizations losing money.

Special plates:

• Proposed and approved by the state Legislature.
• Require sponsoring organizations to put up $32,000 to create the plates.
• Cost $25 initially and $25 to renew each year, with $17 going to the sponsoring organization and $8 to the state.

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