It’s been years since Florida got a new specialty license plate, but 2019 could see the approval of 21 new ones that would raise charitable funds for everything from the Pulse shooting to gopher tortoises to beekeeping to plates for universities outside the state.
The majority of them, though, would be part of a sweeping bill that would also see the elimination of several plates by raising the minimum number of registrations required annually, as well as cap the total number of possible plates in the state at 125.
Most of the proposed plates would raise $25 per tag to go toward a variety of charitable programs. Bills for the 21 new plates have been introduced ahead of the Florida legislative session, which begins March 5 and runs through May 3.
One up for approval is the “Orlando United” plate that would memorialize the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting and support mental health counseling for the survivors.
Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart originally filed a bill for the 2018 session trying to get the plate’s approval, but it fell short. She re-filed the bill for this year’s session, and if passed, it would distribute funds raised by sales of the plate to the Mental Health Association of Central Florida and Two Spirit Health Services to give free counseling to anyone affected by what was at the time the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Another plate entering the legislative fray for the first time is one to support the protection of Florida’s threatened gopher tortoises.
The phrase “Protect the Gopher Tortoise” would appear on the plate. The nonprofit Wildlands Conservation is working with illustrator Laurelin Sitterly for the design, although it hasn’t been finalized. Funds from the plate would help provide grants for gopher tortoise research as well as fund land acquisition and management of gopher tortoise habitats.
A specialty plate that would have the phrase “Save the Bees” would help raise funds for the Florida State Beekeepers Association to fund honeybee research, education, outreach, and husbandry.
The Florida Highwaymen, a group of African-American artists that painted landscapes and often sold them along the highways of the East Coast of Florida, would be commemorated with the Highwaymen plate. Funds from the plate would help pay for the construction of Highwaymen Museum and African-American Cultural Center as well as fund art education in St. Lucie County.
The Ethical Ecotourism plate would provide funds to both the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism and Paddle Florida to raise environmental awareness to help sustain Florida’s natural ecosystems and resources as well as water conservation, wildlife preservation and restoration of springs and protection of waterways.
There’s also a bill filed to create a specialty tag to help support the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society. It would help fund education programs for pre-K-12th grade students as well as programs to protect endangered and threatened species and services for the animals in the zoo’s care.
Similar bills in the House and Senate would add many more plates, but also raise the threshold for minimum number of plates and cap the total number of possible plates in the state at 125. The Senate bill filed by state Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican representing Nassau and parts of Duval County, is S.B. 1104 and the House bill filed by state Rep. James Grant, a Republican representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, is H.B. 505.
The bills would add three universities to the lineup of specialty plates, but these universities aren’t in the state. Both the University of Alabama and University of Georgia (in the Senate version) and Auburn University (in the House version), if approved, would be $50 plates instead of the normal $25 fee. The bill requires out-of-state universities to establish endowments based in the state to provide scholarships to Florida residents to attend the out-of-state institutions. The Georgia plate’s endowment would come from the Georgia Bulldog Club of Jacksonville. The Alabama plate’s endowment would come from the Pensacola Bama Club, and that plate would feature the words “Roll Tide.” The Auburn plate’s endowment would come from Tampa Bay Auburn Club and feature the phrase “War Eagle.”
Those same bills have language to add another 12 plates, but also would remove dozens of plates by raising the minimum threshold for registered plates from 1,000 to 3,000 (and 4,000 for out-of-state universities). That threshold would not apply to in-state colleges or sports teams.
The 12 other new plates are:
The “Conserving Florida Wetlands” plate with funds going to nonprofit Ducks Unlimited to protect wetlands for the benefit of waterfowl and other wildlife.
The “Marino Campus” plate with funds going to nonprofit Dan Marino Foundation, to assist Floridians with developmental disabilities become independent.
The “Donors Save Lives” plate to educate residents on the importance of organ tissue and eye donation and to maintain the Joshua Abbott Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. A similar plate titled “Donate Organs Pass It On” that featured a lighthouse ceased sales in 2015.
The “America the Beautiful” plate that would put money into the America the Beautiful Fund for projects and programs teaching character, leadership and service to Florida youth, supportive services and assistance to members of the military community, outdoor education advancing the ideal of self-sufficiency, wildlife conservation, maintenance of historic or culturally important sites and development of playgrounds, recreational areas and other outdoor amenities.
The “Beat Childhood Cancer” plate with funds going to nonprofits Beat Nb for pediatric cancer treatment and research, and No Kid Should Know Cancer to support families who have a child recently diagnosed with cancer and hold awareness events and support clinical trials.
The Rotary License Plate bearing the Rotary International wheel emblem with funds going to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to support its programs for children with special needs who attend the nonprofit’s camp and other statewide programs.
The “Florida Bay Forever” plate with funds going to the Florida National Park Association to supplement the Everglades National Park budget and support the park’s educational, interpretive, historical and scientific research
The “Bonefish and Tarpon Trust” plate with funds going to conserve and enhance fisheries.
The “Medical Professionals Who Care” plate with funds going to the Florida Benevolent Group to assist low-income individuals in obtaining a medical education
An Orlando City Soccer Club plate, which would fall under the state’s professional sports teams.
A plate for the Coastal Conservation Association that would read “Conserve Florida’s Fisheries” with funds for habitat enhancement and restoration, saltwater fisheries conservation and education.
A Blue Angels plate which would say “Home of the Blue Angels” and distribute funds to the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.
The bill also puts a maximum number of specialty tags at 125, and would not let any new plates be created until others were eliminated to make room under the 125-total cap.
Already this year, one bill was filed and withdrawn that would have created a “Sun Sea Smiles” specialty tag to raise funds for a variety of nonprofit organizations tied to Florida residents of Caribbean descent.
Overall, there are more than 1,550,000 registered specialty tags in the state across 123 designs. 2018 marked the fifth consecutive year for growth in tags, which contribute between $15-$25 per plate annually for various charities associated with the tags.
The last time any new plates were approved by the Florida Legislature was 2014 when the state added plates for Moffitt Cancer Center, Keiser University, Florida Sheriff’s Association and the “A Hero Remembered Never Dies” plate for fallen law enforcement.
Any new specialty tag approved by the Legislature, though, currently has to achieve 1,000 presales before any actual plates are made.
Also, existing specialty tags that fall below 1,000 registered plates in a 12-month period will be pulled from circulation. That threshold, which does not apply to college and university plates, caused the cessation of the American Red Cross plate as well as the Hispanic Achievers and St. Johns River plates.
Richard Tribou is a Senior Content Editor for the Community Conversations Team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 407-420-5134