Arizona hybrid plate

Arizona Department of Transportation MVD's “blue sky” energy-efficient license plates


If you're already confused about the origin of that license plate on the car ahead of you, it could get worse.

The House Transportation Committee voted Thursday to add six more options to the list of specialty plates available to Arizona motorists. Groups that will now be able to promote themselves — and make money for their causes — range from rural firefighters and graduates of the private Grand Canyon University to professional golfers and those promoting “equine education.”

If the various bills are approved that will bring the total of available plates to more than 60.

It is that fact that is causing heartburn from the Arizona Association of Counties. And that's because of the confusion issue.

“It's truly an issue of public safety,” said Jen Sweeney Marson, the group's executive director.

She said her 15 county sheriffs and their deputies rely on witnesses to incidents “to try and piece together what happened.” That could be a crime or even an Amber alert.

“The more plates we have, the harder it is for people to identify a vehicle as potentially being from Arizona,” Marson told lawmakers.

“Yes, the plate number is important,” she acknowledged. “But so is the originating state.”

Marson said sheriffs are not opposed to groups raising money through personalized plates, but she prefers a proposal crafted by Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, to have one standard style — and then devote a corner of the plate for a decal for whatever cause is being supported.

That proposal, however, has failed to gain sufficient support for approval in prior years, and Marson said her sheriffs cannot support more specialty plates unless and until that change is made.

She was countered by a parade of individuals representing the groups that would benefit.

The reason groups push for specialty plates involves more than simply letting people show their loyalty to whatever cause or organization is being promoted, whether it's the Arizona Cardinals or the University of Arizona.

With few exceptions, specialty plates cost an extra $25 a year, and $17 of that goes to the sponsoring organization, with the rest kept by the Motor Vehicle Division.

Sierra Vista Fire Chief Randy Redmond lobbied on behalf of a specialty plate for firefighters. He said the money raised would help rural fire departments pay the cost of sending their volunteers to an annual training school.

Kirby Consier representing Phoenix International Raceway spoke in favor of a special plate promoting her client, with some of the money used to promote “dream experiences” for children involving motorsports.

Promoters of a professional golf license plate said their proceeds from their specialty tag would help provide golf lessons to inner-city children.

“I appreciate that the license plate legislation is kind of a feel-good moment,” Marson told lawmakers. “But I don't think that feel good should ever trump public safety.”

In the end, though, only Rep. Juan Escamilla, D-San Luis, said he could not justify adding additional license plates to the list.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she sympathizes with the public safety concerns. Steele said that, ideally, she would prefer the kind of modification that Farley has pushed, unsuccessfully. But Steele, who said she has a special plate on her own vehicle — one promoting environmental education — said she could not in good faith deny other groups their own fundraising opportunities.

This isn't the end of it — and not just because the measures now need approval of the full House and then the Senate.

There are measures still pending for two other specialty plates, one to help fund community colleges and the other for “education efforts related to the life and legacy of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.”

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