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Jeff Brandes cracking down on specialty auto tags

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The chairman of the Florida Senate’s Transportation committee has filed legislation aimed at reining in the burgeoning number of specialty license plates.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, filed the bill (SB 1390) on Wednesday.

The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety now lists 124 approved and available specialty plates.

Now, groups in Florida that propose a new specialty plate must “pre-sell” 1,000 of them in a two-year period before they will be manufactured.

Brandes’ measure would increase that number to 4,000 plates. If the goal isn’t met, the proposed specialty plate “is deauthorized.”

His bill would also discontinue any existing specialty plate that falls below 4,000 issued in a period of 12 consecutive months. That number is now 1,000.

Lawmakers imposed an unofficial moratorium on new tags in 2008 — and have been regularly ignoring it since.

In 2014, for instance, lawmakers OK’d new plates for Keiser University, Fallen Law Enforcement Officers and Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.

Law enforcement officials have complained that more and diverse plates makes it harder for officers and crime witnesses to quickly identify a vehicle.

In 2013, more than 137,000 specialty tags were sold and 1.2 million were renewed, creating revenue of nearly $34 million, according to the department.

Money generated by such plate sales goes to charities or nonprofit institutions. Specialty plates cost $15 to $25 a year above the standard registration fee.

For the 2016 Legislative Session, bills have been filed that would create still more specialty plates, including a “Sun Sea Smiles” license plate benefiting the Florida Caribbean Charitable Foundation and a “Support Special Needs Kids” license plate.

Texas holds the record with 363 different “specialty, organizational or military license plates,” according to a 2014 tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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