Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Mobile Billboard Business - Lots of License Plate Bills

[I need to run, so I'm going to post this now and try to do more proofing later. Sorry.]

There are six license plate bills that I can find on BASIS.

l-r Sens. Geissel, Meyer, Wielechowski, Paskvan, Staffer Karla Hart testifying
Right now, as I understand this, people can get vanity license plates in Alaska and there are special organizational license plates.  Whenever constituents call their representative to ask for a special license plate - such as the bills today heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee for Choose Life, Breast Cancer Awareness, and the National Rifle Association - the legislator has to write a bill and it has to go through all the hoops of the legislative process.  And legislators being legislators, politics plays a role.  So Sen. Bill Wielechowski has offered SB (Senate Bill) 93 to take this process out of the legislature and let the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) handle these administratively.

Key issues raised:

  1. Should the State license plates be made into mobile billboards for various not-for-profit organizations?
  2. How will the DMV decide to allow a particular organization to have a license plate? 

    Another issue that I had, but that I didn't hear raised is:
  3. Whether the state should be in the business of helping fund raising for not-for-profit organizations?  
Should the State be in the mobile billboard business?
From what I heard in the committee meeting, while Sen. Paskwan asked if the state should get into the "mobile billboard business."  it didn't seem that anyone really cared, or if they did, whether they take the political heat they would get from organizations that already have such plates.  Sen. Paskwan asked and then the subject was dropped as they went on to other things.   The answer is the state is and will be.

How will the DMV decide to allow or not allow plates?
This was the focus of most of the discussion.  Whitney Brewster, the head of DMV, spoke by phone and described the process they would follow.  Now they have standards for vanity plates that allows them deny plates that are
  • vulgar, 
  • indecent, or 
  • have a sexual connotation,  
  • patently offensive to a racial, ethnic, or religious group
Pennsylvania was identified as a state that has the DMV administer the specialized organizational license plates and Brewster and Wielechowski staffer Karla Hart reported that Pennsylvania does not report any serious problems.  There are also legal cases that have identified precedents to follow.  You can click here to see all the Pennsylvania organizations that have specialized plates.

Most of the people calling in to testify were in favor of either the NRA plates or the Choose Life plates.  Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU, called in to say their main concern was that the process has to be viewpoint neutral. 

Should the state be raising funds for non-profits?
The state gives money to non-profits all the time in grants and contracts to do business the state wants done.  The State has something no one else has - license plates.  In the case of vanity plates, individuals agree to pay a premium, which goes to the state, to get their own personal license plate.  But this is different.  Here, non-profits can raise money using the state's special monopoly on plates.  There may even be a sense to some that the state endorses the organizations since they are on the plates. Russ Amerling, National Publicity Coordinator, Choose Life License Plates, testified by phone that his organization nationally had raised over $13 million through license plates. Obviously, the more supporters in an organization, the more money they can raise. So, essentially, the state is aiding larger organizations more than smaller ones.

How the money gets distributed
Neil Moss, head of the Scholastic Clays Target Program, who testified by phone that he had initiated the idea of the NRA plate, said his organization would use the money for youth gun safety education.  He even said it wouldn't be limited to SCTP.  SCTP would allocate monies to organizations around the state that do these types of youth safety programs.  But there was no discussion of how this money would be audited.  Instead, the organizations would collect the money from people, then send a portion of it to the state.  What they then did with the money afterward was never discussed.

Another issue is that some organizations take their cut and others don't.  The National Rifle Association people will get, if I understood it right, about $20 per license plate.  But the money for the Breast Cancer Awareness would go to the state.  I would note that the Breast Cancer Awareness was being pushed by Rep. Holmes, who is in the minority and less likely to get it through the Republican dominated House, so she was able to get Republican Sen. Linda Menard to add it to her NRA bill.  But when asked where the money should go, Menard said that the Breast Cancer folks hadn't asked to keep the money, so it should go to the general fund.  I wonder if the question had even come up in the prior discussions.  Why didn't Menard suggest it go to the Breast Cancer group?  I don't know.

A plate for a Planned Parenthood related group, if I understood this right, got added to the Choose Life bill (SB 16) before today's hearing.  

Related Bills
In addition to the organizations mentioned in the committee today, there's a bill for the Lao Vets to have their own license plate.  They didn't take a vote today and I'm guessing that Wielechowski is hoping that SB 93 will be passed and all this will be delegated to the DMV so that the legislature doesn't have to deal with it any more. 

There are also two bills on driver's licenses - one to limit the validity of licenses for non-residents to the length of the person's permission to stay in the US.  That will be heard in the House Finance Committee this afternoon. 

"An Act relating to issuance of driver's licenses."

And there's this one.  I don't really know any more about this than what it says:

"An Act relating to drivers' licenses and to immunity for persons who report persons
who have a medical or other condition that may impair the ability to operate a motor

Below are my notes for the discussion of SB 2 and SB 16:


Linda Menard - would create two new optional license plates for additional fee.  NRA commemorative license plate and Breast Cancer Awareness.  NRA will cost $50 fee and then $30 extra fee above regular fees.  Breast Care bill $50 extra.

Extra fee goes to skeet shooting - money will be appropriated directly to those programs.

Wielechowski: Can you talk about how your dept. administers these sort of bills
Brewster: Specialty license plates that are fund raisers - we account for those funds separately for legislature. Dealing with plates in excess of our costs. It costs us about $10 per set plus shipping charges, so anything above that is reported to finance and those funds go into the general fund.

Neil Moss: Live in Wasilla - state director for Scholastic Clay Target Program - my idea to get this on board. Alaska has more NRA members per capita than any other state, I'm involved with youth shooting sports. Always in search of money. Firearm safety literature. Always scrounging around to pay for something. This bill is a great fund raiser - successful in Tennesee - I don't have exact numbers and have spoken with the director there and they're happy with program. ASCTP is a 501 - it's not all for the clay target program, it would be available to any youth shooting project in the state of Alaska through our board of directors. I'm aware of all the state programs,ASCTP is primarily a shotgun program. About firearm safety and and I started this.

BW= For sponsor = Breast Cancer Awareness plates - where would you like the excess funds to go.
Menard: They haven't specified this so they can just go to the general fund.

Senate Bill 16: Senator Meyer
Choose Life/Pro-Family Pro-Choice
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

Michele Seideman - inclusion of pro-family pro-choice license plate, establishes where those funds will go for these plates.

Meyer: Comments to original bill. Allow AK drivers to purchase a specialty license plate "Choose Life". We have a lot of license plate bills and so think your bill is probably the answer to this. This is not a fund raiser - an additional $30. 26 other states have these license plates and brought to us by our constituents. I personally like the idea. My family adopted a child. I see this as a pro-adotption message. Also strong pro-life message. And also the suicide prevention people like it. So it can mean whatever people wish. Not intended as a license plate.

Brewster: [No Questions]

Jeff Mittman: ED of ACLU for the state of Alaska, we've raised issues in other bills. These raise significant speech issues. The previous bill SB 96 addresses those, but there are still some. Process has to be viewpoint neutral.

Russ Emerling: Natl Publicity Coordinator for Choose Life License plate. 26 plates approved in US. 24 on the road, 2 in pre selling stage. It is a fund raiser in the other states. $13.? million raised to support adoption. I didn't know there would be no fundraisers. Intended to support life and get unwed pregnant mothers to choose life and choose adoption.

Jim Minnery: Rep the Alaska Family Council representing 1000s Alaskans across the state. 1000s of people whose lives have been affected by adoption.

Mike Paulson: Chair of Choose Life Alaska, here to answer questions.

Kelly Foreman: Also with Choose Life Alaska - discussion on this for two years and we came on in February to get sponsors, worked with DMV to design the plates. We encourage. We see that there is another license plate added. We asked so they would need to go through the same process we did for design.

Bob Head: Juneau resident 35 years. Dir. of American Family Association of Alaska - I've had the privilege to raise an adopted son, he's gone on to be research science and would be a mind that would be wasted. My wife and I have been chaplains who worked at half-way house and with ???

Sid Hydersdorf: Juneau resident. I support SB 16 that would allow the Choose Life license plate. Some critics may exist - result of our abortion culture. I think this is good public policy. I hope the committee will support the idea of affirmation and celebration of life, promote a culture of life.

Karen Robinson: Representing Alaska's Women Lobby and Planned Parenthood. We support the committee substitute. Thank the offices for their assistance. I'm still not clear that it would raise dollars, would support agencies that help with adoption. I'd suggest the Children's Trust which already has a Kid's License plate and get money from that.

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