TALLAHASSEE — Over objections of House Democrats, lawmakers are trying to increase the number of specialty license plates while putting new guardrails around the process.
The House voted 78-40 on Wednesday for a proposal (HB 1135) that would expand the potential number of specialty license plates from 121 to 150, while revising the process to discontinue low sellers.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar version (SB 412), sending it to the Senate floor.
The Senate measure by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, pushes for a cap of 200 designs.
The House proposal was opposed by House Democrats for failing to include long-sought plates for nine black fraternities and sororities dubbed the “Divine 9.”
Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said supporters of plates for the Greek service organizations have been told for eight years to “wait,” which “almost always means no.”
“If we’re going to have 150 specialty license plates here in the state of Florida, we ought to make sure that in terms of ethnic groups, in terms of colleges and universities, that it is fair and there is some objective criteria in recommending these license plates,” Thompson said.
Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, called it ironic that Georgia and Alabama offer specialty plates for the “Divine 9” organizations.
House sponsor James Grant, R-Tampa, said he gave backers of the “Divine 9” plates an opportunity to submit a single “super tag” template that could be used for the different organizations.
“I’ll still honor that deal despite the rhetoric in this chamber suggesting that in some capacity a decision about license tags has anything to do with racial discrimination,” Grant said.
Among the proposed new designs would be for Ducks Unlimited, The Dan Marino Foundation, the Florida State Beekeepers Association, Rotary, the Florida National Parks Association, the St. Lucie County Education Foundation, Orlando City Soccer, the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society and Daughters of the American Revolution.
Backers of each plate would have 60 days to submit designs. That would be followed by a two-year period to reach a pre-sale level of at least 3,000 plates, up from 1,000, before the tags could move forward. Supporters of the of the out-of-state universities would have to get 4,000 pre-sales.
Each plate would have to maintain those numbers or, starting July 1, 2022, be discontinued if below the new sales benchmark for 12 consecutive months.
If a plate fails to reach the pre-sale minimum, people who have pre-bought could opt for different designs or get refunds.
Plates for Florida colleges, some of which are the lowest sellers, would be exempt from the minimum sales requirement.
As of last month, 1.63 million specialty plates were registered in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
The top seller remains the University of Florida, followed by Helping Sea Turtles Survive, the surfing-related Endless Summer and Florida State University.
Grant has been working since the 2017 legislative session to get a plate for Auburn, his alma mater.
Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, added a plate for Morehouse College, a private historically black college in Atlanta, to the Senate bill on Tuesday. The Senate proposal also doesn’t include the “Divine 9” organizations.