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July 4, 2012

Specialty SC license plates get approval

Special license plates that recognize South Carolina’s veterans, active military personnel and their parents are among dozens of new plate designs authorized by legislators.

Special license plates that recognize South Carolina’s veterans, active military personnel and their parents are among dozens of new plate designs authorized by legislators.

Two laws passed last month add to the scores of specialty plates issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. They include plates recognizing recipients of military medals, veterans injured in combat and each branch of the Armed Forces. Others celebrate the University of South Carolina’s back-to-back national baseball championships, beach music and fishing.

South Carolina drivers already can choose from more than 140 plates for their vehicles. That includes about two dozen military-related plates, ranging from those that identify veterans and Purple Heart recipients to one any driver can choose to, as it reads, “Support Our Troops.”

Retired Col. Keith Dunn said the military plates catch his attention.

“It brings a sense of pride that our guys are being recognized,” Dunn said Tuesday. The executive director of the National Guard Association of South Carolina said he was speaking personally, not for the group.

Rep. Mike Pitts said he thinks the state should limit its specialized plates to the military.

“Veterans deserve a special distinction,” said Pitts, R-Laurens. “They should be recognized.”

But the retired police officer said the plethora of other plates creates a safety hazard for officers as they attempt to stop vehicles. When calling into dispatch, an officer may not be able to recognize what state issued the license or make out its numbers, Pitts said.

“If it’s a dangerous vehicle and I’m struggling to try to make out what plate it is, that’s seconds I don’t need to waste, especially at night when it’s more difficult to see the plate,” he said.

For that reason, he used to vote against specialized plates. But he became the main sponsor of a massive special-plates bill that Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law last week — a bill that lumped together bills on separate requests. Pitts said his bill started as a plate for retired highway troopers, at their request.

Pitts said he wishes the state could reduce its number of specialty plates, rather than expand them, but recognizes that’s unlikely, given how popular they are with constituents.

The new law did change the process for issuing new plates, so that the DMV breaks even.

Nonprofits sponsoring the specialty plates must pay a $6,800 nonrefundable fee up front to cover the cost of getting their plate to print. That includes plates that, under the new laws, would read Play Tennis, Tree My Dog and I Support Libraries — and those bearing high school logos.

State law previously required either a $4,000 deposit or 400 pre-paid orders. But the agency was losing money under that arrangement, said DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks.

Pitts’ omnibus bill takes effect in December. Getting a plate to print is a months-long process that involves both the sponsoring organization and Department of Public Safety approving the design.

Extra fees paid for a special plate benefit the sponsoring organization. Plates that identify military veterans and award recipients are fee-free.

The most popular specialty plates are, in order, a no-fee plate that reads “In God We Trust” and plates for the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. Their extra $70 cost supports scholarships.

The number of specialty plates in South Carolina jumps to 370 when including those that identify current legislators, members of various public boards and commissions, and the judiciary.

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