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Nebraska lawmakers flooded with requests for special plates

February 5, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska motorists who want to support veterans, ornate box turtles or prostate cancer exams could donate to those causes and others with a new license plate, if some state lawmakers have their way.

Members of a legislative committee heard pitches Tuesday for nearly a dozen new specialty plates, adding to the growing number approved in recent years.

’“I think we just set the record for the number of license plate bills heard in one day,” said Sen. Curt Friesen, chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

The number of new plates surged after the surprising success of Nebraska’s mountain lion conservation plates, which have generated $225,000 for youth wildlife education — far more than expected — since they were created in 2016.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, of Omaha, previously blocked all efforts by lawmakers to approve specialty plates on grounds that they detracted from the purpose of helping law enforcement identify vehicles.

But he changed his mind after former state Sen. Charlie Janssen suggested in 2014 that lawmakers create a mountain lion license plate — honoring an animal Chambers has tried to protect from hunters.

Some new proposals would create special plates for animals such as sandhill cranes, bighorn sheep, cutthroat trout and ornate box turtles.

Others would honor veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Vietnam, and establish a new “Support our Troops” plate to boost funding for a state veteran employment program.

“There are still many Vietnam veterans who have never been welcomed home properly and deserve this recognition,” said Sen. Carol Blood, of Bellevue, the sponsor of the military plates bill.

Yet another proposed plate would highlight the importance of spaying and neutering pets. Revenue from the $40 plate would go to a grant program to help low-income families spay and neuter their pets, said Sen. Anna Wishart, of Lincoln.

Wishart said other states have passed similar laws, and “the benefits are already evident. More cats and dogs are being spayed and neutered, resulting in fewer animals entering overburdened and underfunded municipal and nonprofit shelters.”

One proposal would divert revenue from an existing pediatric cancer awareness license plate into a fund to pay for pediatric cancer research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Those plates currently generate about $25,000 annually, but the road goes into a state road construction fund.

Deana Thuer, whose daughter was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer, said shifting the money would encourage more people to buy plates, thus raising critical research money and awareness.

“We will buy the license plates, we will do the 5Ks, we will do anything to find a cure for our children,” she said.

Prostate cancer awareness advocates urged lawmakers to create plates for their cause, modeled after breast cancer awareness plates in 2017.

“We have lost many of our friends and loved ones because they were not aware of prostate cancer,” said Jeff Shapiro, a representative for the Nebraska Prostate Cancer Alliance.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, of Omaha, said a bill recognizing ornate box turtles would generate money for state officials to preserve their natural prairie habitats. The turtle is one of just two that are native to Nebraska.

“A new plate for the ornate box turtle is sure to be both beautiful and foster interest in Nebraska as a tourist destination,” she said.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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