8 new Arizona license plate designs OK'd
Jul. 12, 2009 12:00 AM
Cats and dogs. Children's handprints. Amateur radio towers. The ubiquitous
purple saguaro cactus.
Generally speaking, Arizona has a lot on its plates.
In most other states, those small sheets of metal attached to vehicles are
simply a form of government-issued ID. But in Arizona, they have become another
avenue for drivers' self-expression, a way for non-profit organizations to raise
funds and even a conduit for First Amendment controversy.
In all, the state has 37 special license-plate designs, and eight ones may soon
be joining the ranks. The Legislature recently passed bills that would OK seven
new plates, championing everything from the Arizona Cardinals to hunger relief.
In addition, an existing Wildlife Conservation plate, currently available only
to members, will be redesigned and offered to the general public.
But die-hard Cardinals fans shouldn't start unscrewing their current plates yet.
If approved by the governor, it will be at least 90 days before the laws
allowing the new plates go into effect.
Once they've got the green light, the organization has to drum up $32,000 in
fees to cover startup costs. Artists then begin sketching out preliminary
designs, and law enforcement weighs in to make sure that plate numbers are still
readable at a glance. The plates then go into production at the state prison in
Drivers must pay a $25 annual fee to obtain a special license plate: $17 goes to
the non-profit as a donation, and $8 goes toward the State Highway Fund. (If you
want a plate that reads, say, "PL8 LVR," it'll cost an additional $25 per year
"I think that they are a way to support a cause that you feel strongly about,
and have something fun on your license plate at the same time," said Cydney
DeModica, a Motor Vehicle Division spokeswoman. Her own specialized plate
supports child-abuse prevention and trumpets the pet name her grandchildren have
Potential designs used to go through the Arizona License Plate Commission, a
seven-member volunteer committee established in 1992 to try to regulate license
plates.At the time, proposed plate designs were each more outlandish than the
last, according to Lela Steffey, a former state legislator who helped found the
"We were putting on plates that you couldn't even see the numbers, they were so
full of pretty things," Steffey said.
The Legislature eliminated the License Plate Commission this year. Some
legislators felt that the committee had been made redundant, as more groups have
approached lawmakers directly to get their specialty plates approved through the
In the meantime, new - and bolder - plates have continued to roll out. Last
January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Arizona Life
Coalition had the right to move forward with a "Choose Life" license plate,
citing free-speech rights. Opponents said that license plates were no place for
controversial statements, fearing that plates with political slogans would soon
be in the pipeline.
While there has been no contention over the latest batch of eight, the
proliferation of designs seems here to stay.
For Gary Fox, a license-plate collector in Scottsdale, living in a state known
for constantly turning out new designs is like being in heaven. Fox has more
than 1,000 Arizona plates alone, and admits with a laugh that he may be one of
the few who actually looks forward to trips to the MVD, where he inquires about
"I've never gotten into a car accident, but I've always got a careful eye out
(for plates)," Fox said.
"Let's just say I keep a watchful eye at the red lights."