JEFFERSON CITY - If the serene green and blue of Missouri's new license plate just doesn't express your individuality, don't despair. For an additional fee or by proving membership in an organization, Show Me State drivers can chose from more than 50 specialty plates.
The state made $143,000 last year from the fees. Of course, the legislature, which authorizes any new designs, made some good will with its constituents. Lawmakers have approved special designs for everyone from Pearl Harbor survivors to members of the Knights of Columbus. And they've proposed more designs, including ones for Gulf War veterans, donors to the Missouri Botanical Gardens and "Worldwide Marriage Encounter" members.
"I have the president of the Missouri Square Dancers' Association and his wife in my district," said Rep. Bill Ransdall, D-Waynesville, who has introduced a bill to create special plates for members of the group's federation. "They have 8,000 members." Ransdall said he's had "quite a few requests" for the plates.
Ransdall's bill, and others, requires drivers to contribute to the organization before they can purchase the special plates. More than 3,000 Missourians have paid the $25 required to purchase one of the 24 collegiate plates available, said Kay Dinolfo, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Anyone who pays can show their spirit for the Missouri Tigers, but other plates have a steeper fee and more exclusive memberships.
Only two drivers in Missouri have Congressional Medal of Honor plates, and six have Silver Stars. While there are several thousand cars on the road driven by Purple Heart recipients, POWs or disabled veterans, Dinolfo said no one has ordered the Korean War or World War II veterans' plates.
"I guess they'd rather brag about their decorations than just the fact they served," Dinolfo said.
The plates, which are flat rather than embossed like the standard plates, are made at the Jefferson City Correctional Center on a new machine recently purchased by the Department of Corrections, said John Fougere, a public information officer for the department. Fougere said the new technology allows the department to forego its previous minimum inventory requirement of 300 plates, even if only a few were used.
At least one legislator thinks that the process for approving new designs needs some parameters.
"There's no question some bills could be considered frivolous to you and I," said Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett, a member of the commission which chose the design for the standard issue plates. "But the people affected don't think they are."
Thomason plans to reintroduce legislation to transfer design approval authority from the legislature to a special commission. The commission would disband after it set up certain criteria by which groups are granted new plates.
Thomason said he does not see a problem with the organizations making money from the plates. "They're public or quasi-public groups," Thomason said. "There have been no controversies with any of them."