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Church State Issues

Arizona to issue "In God We Trust" license plate

Jul 12, 2010

By: Amy B Wang

The Arizona Republic

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 Florence.

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 for personalization.)

"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 given her.

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 commission.

"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 Legislature.

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 upcoming designs.

"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."