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April 17, 2003

License Plates for All, From Vets to Neutered Pets

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE   —   Vets got šem. Neutered pets got šem. So did soldiers, searchers, rodeo riders, and a variety of retirees.
    Their own license plates, that is.
    Lawmakers passed, and Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law, more than a dozen bills that create new license plates for groups ranging from retired letter carriers to wildlife lovers.
    "This was the year of the plates," said Motor Vehicle Division Deputy Director Keith Perry.
    The plethora of plates, however, also prompted the Legislature to come up with a new system.
    From now on, specialized plates will be standardized   —   the familiar red-lettering-on-bright-yellow plates with the phrases "New Mexico USA" and "Land of Enchantment"   —   but with a special logo and lettering for each interest group.
    That's aimed at cutting down on confusion.
    New Mexico already has two standard plates   —   the traditional bright yellow and the newer hot-air balloon plate   —   as well as dozens of special plates.
    There are currently bright red plates for elected officials, dark blue plates for the military, and multicolored plates for government vehicles. The Children's Trust Fund has its own distinctive plate, as do the National Guard, firefighters, volunteer firefighters, and fans of the Lobos and the Aggies.
    Yellow plates can be vanity plates   —   you choose the wording   —   or can be specially designated for the handicapped, ham radio operators or "horseless carriages," which are vehicles at least 35 years old used for show purposes.
    Military plate variations include Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, disabled veterans   —   regular and wheelchair   —   and prisoner of war.
    There is also a special Pearl Harbor plate   —   restricted to those who were stationed on Oahu, or within three miles offshore, between 7:55 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941.
    Enough, the House Transportation Committee decided when faced this year with an unexpected onslaught of license plate legislation.
    "It's not the Land of Enchantment any more. It's the Land of Special Plates," said Rep. Henry Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, a committee member.
    "Here we have a state that we're proud of, and you don't recognize New Mexico (plates) any more. There's a license plate for everything now," Saavedra said.
    The committee concluded that existing plates should be kept, but that new specialty plates for "worthy public purposes" should be standardized.
    And lawmakers changed the rules governing those plates. Once new logo license plates are approved by the Legislature, interest groups will have to prove that a sufficient number of their members are interested in buying them. And they'll have to give the Motor Vehicle Division money for the initial order ahead of time.
    In the past, MVD has had to estimate what the demand for a specialized plate would be, "and you'd order that number, and either they'd be swept up or sit on the shelf," Perry said.
    The new law also will prevent MVD from having to dig into its budget for the cost of the initial run of the plates, which can be from $10,000 to $25,000.
    Some of the new plates   —   which will be available as of January for an additional fee ranging from $15 to $35   —   are meant to be moneymakers for the interest groups.
    Some proceeds from the specialty pet care plates will support animal control spaying and neutering programs, for example, while the wildlife logo plates will put money into the state's Share with Wildlife program.
    The New Mexico High School Rodeo Association's plates will pump money into its scholarship fund, while money from the new Route 66 plates will be earmarked for revitalizing and preserving the historic route.
    Logo plates also were authorized for active duty service members, armed forces retirees, retired firefighters, retired National Guard members, Fraternal Order of Police, the New Mexico wing of the Civil Air Patrol, retired state police, and search and rescue members.