A hot race: NM works to beat out Colo. for ‘chile’ license plate

New Mexico legislators are racing against time — and Colorado — to have the first specialty license plate featuring chiles.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-55), who sponsored House Bill 393, said the bill was amended to include an emergency clause to ensure that the plates are available to New Mexicans before being produced in neighboring Colorado. An emergency clause means that the bill will become effective immediately after it is signed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

According to the Colorado General Assembly, House Bill 17-1012 would create a “Pueblo chile” license plate. The bill has already passed Colorado’s House of Representatives and will go to their Senate Finance Committee for a vote.

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New Mexico’s House of Representatives passed HB 393, the Chile Plate Bill, with a 58-1 vote on Saturday. It will now make its way to a Senate committee, where Brown said, she hopes the bill will be quickly considered.

What’s behind the rush? Brown said chile is a major New Mexican crop and has ties to not only the state’s cuisine, but the culture.

According to 2014 New Mexico Agricultural Statistics published by the Department of Agriculture, New Mexico ranked No. 1 in acreage planted with chile in 2014. There were 8,000 acres of chile planted that year.

“The competitive juices are flowing,” Brown said, laughing. “It’s our time to claim first. I believe that we should be the first state to recognize chile. Our acreage in chile production is far bigger than Colorado. We have a New Mexico trademark.”

Brown said she sponsored the bill as a way to embrace the pepper.

“I’m quite a fan of chile. I thought that it was something that we should do,” Brown said. “That (chile) is just iconic. It’s a source of pride.”

Brown said if passed, the plates would be designed by the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces under the supervision of the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Department.

Craig Massey, spokesman for the the museum, said three designs have already been drafted. The suggested graphic designs, which were created by exhibit designer Rafael Torres, include red and green chile peppers and the Zia symbol.

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“We’ve done one before — the farm and ranch heritage plate,” Massey said. “It’s a privilege and an honor for the museum to be included in this program.”

Torres said he spent about four days crafting the designs, which were conceptualized by Torres, museum director Mark Santiago and other staff members. He said he was focused on making sure that the designs were not too complicated.

Torres said the designs are not finalized and will be revamped for a final draft to be approved by the state Motor Vehicle Department, if the bill passes.

“It’s a a big privilege to work on a project, to see something like this out there,” Torres said. “It’s going to be real beneficial to the museum.”

Educational programs at the museum would be funded by $25 or the $35 plate fee, and $10 would be distributed to the state Motor Vehicle Department to fund the making and issuing the plate.

Brown said in addition to a first-time fee, the specialty plate would have to be renewed every year, bringing more revenue to the museum. Brown said she also believes that the new specialty plates would increase sales in license plates by an estimated 50 plates a year.

“It will be a really good form of advertisement for New Mexico and to see these plates on our vehicles,” Brown said. “What I hope is that we can do it. We’ve got to get there first.”

DeJanay Booth can be reached at 575-628-5546, dbooth@currentargus.com and @DeJanayBooth on Twitter.

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