A new Florida license plate is being designed by famed Miami artist Romero Britto to increase awareness of child molestation. Another will help Big Brothers Big Sisters take children off waiting lists for mentors and other services.
An American Legion plate will help fund boys and girls programs. Still another will help support a Masonic nursing home in St. Petersburg.
Florida drivers soon will have those four new license plates from which to choose, besides the 120 already on the road. Gov. Rick Scott also breathed new life into a fifth, the Hispanic Achievers plate, which had failed to sell the 1,000 tags required to stay in production.
Lawmakers authorized the first specialty tag, commemorating the space shuttle Challenger, in 1986. Now, there are nearly 580,000 of them tags, declaring Floridans’ love of sports teams, colleges and universities, horses, whales, dolphins and a myriad of other things.
Groups backing three of the four new tags — Lauren’s Kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters and American Legion – can start preselling the plates immediately. They’ll have two years to presell the required 1,000 plates to get them on cars and trucks. Motorcyclists don’t have the option for the special plates because their tags are too small.
The plate benefiting a St. Petersburg nursing home for Masons will be available for presale Oct. 1.
Each plate costs $20 to $30 on top of regular vehicle registration costs. Most of the money goes to benefit the nonprofits.
Proceeds from Lauren’s Kids tags will help underwrite educational materials the nonprofit uses to increase awareness about childhood sexual abuse, said Lauren Book, daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book and founder of the nonprofit. Book, who was molested by her nanny, has launched a crusade to help youngsters and their families prevent abuse and deal with it if it happens.
Her organization enlisted Britto to design the plate. Book said she’s had more than 300 drivers express interest in purchasing one even while the design is still being completed.
Supporters of personalized plates say the tags not only bring in cash but offer free publicity for nonprofits.
“The branding on cars is creating that awareness and continuing to talk to people about how important it is, that we talk to people about the issues of childhood sexual abuse with is 95 percent preventable with awareness,” Book said. “So everybody who has this tag on their car will be helping to prevent childhood sexual abuse.”
Money from the Big Brothers Big Sisters tags will be used to help take 10,000 children throughout the state off waiting lists for mentors and other services, said Jody Clifford, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Florida. The organization, which specializes in one-on-one mentoring, serves 16,000 youths aged 5 to 18 and their families. Clifford said the tag will help the organization match children with trained adults.
“We are very, very excited. We are saving lives. So many behaviors can be avoided if you do have the proper love and care and support,” Clifford said.
Freemason’s plate sales will help underwrite a nursing home in St. Petersburg that houses 100 elderly members of the organization, said Jorge Aladro, a former grand master of the Florida Masons who lives in Palm Bay. Masons who are Florida residents don’t pay anything to live at the home, Aladro said.
The organization doesn’t anticipate any problem meeting the 1,000 minimum tags because it has more than 40,000 members in the state, Aladro said.
“I don’t expect the regular public to buy a Mason’s tag. Normally they would buy a tag with the University of Miami or Florida State University. This is pretty much geared toward people affiliated with the organization and know what we do,” he said.
The American Legion tag proceeds will primarily be used to cover the costs of the organization’s Boys State and Girls State programs along with programs benefiting veterans.
Getting a specialty tag approved is a complicated and – for most – expensive process. Most groups have to come up with $60,000 to cover the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ costs, agency spokeswoman Leslie Palmer said.
State law also requires the groups to maintain 1,000 active plates. If the number dips below that, organizations are put on probation for a year. If they fail to meet the required 1,000 within 12 months, the tags may no longer be available.
Two approved tags – Veterans of Foreign Wars and Children First – never got onto vehicles because they never met the presale requirement. Three tags – American Red Cross, St. Johns River and Hispanic Achievers – are currently on probation.
But Palmer said her agency is working with the groups so they will be able to keep selling their tags.
Lawmakers recently bailed out the Hispanic Achievers plate, backed by the National Hispanic Corporate Achievers, by allowing the group to spend 20 percent of the proceeds from the tags on marketing. Money from the sales of the plates goes to local Hispanic groups and covers the costs of scholarships, said Danny Ramos, founder of the national organization.
Fewer than 500 of the plates – less than half of the required amount to stay in production – are active, according to state records.
“This year it’s the 500th anniversary of Hispanics settling in Florida, so the plate has major significance to the Hispanic community because of that. But we haven’t had the money to let people know that the plate exists because we weren’t permitted to use any money for advertising or to let people know that the plate exists,” Ramos said. “It’s a catch-22.”
Scott recently drew the wrath of environmentalists when he vetoed a $10 increase in the wildflower plate, which currently costs $15 above the regular license plate fees. Money from the tag goes to fund the Florida Wildlife Association and helps pay for roadside plantings as well as research. “I was stunned,” the association’s president, Lisa Roberts, said in May after the veto.
Scott’s explanation: “Although buying a specialty license plate is voluntary, Floridians wishing to demonstrate their support for our State’s natural beauty would be subjected to the cost increases sought by this bill.”
TO PRE-ORDER PLATES
Vehicle owners can pre-order the new plates at any tax collector’s office or private tag agency for $35.50; private tag agencies may charge extra. Production starts only after 1,000 have been pre-ordered. If the plates are not produced, the money can be refunded or applied to another plate.
— Available for pre-order: American Legion; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Lauren’s Kids.
— Available for pre-0rder Oct. 1: Freemasons.