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Plate Proliferation Concerns Police

March 10, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 32, HB 141, HB 290

JEFFERSON CITY If you need to express your personality through your license plates, chances are there's a politician who has one for you.

Lawmakers are proposing at least 12 new plates this year.

Presently, there are 55 specialized plates - for colleges, war veterans, conservation, Jaycees, and lawmakers themselves. New bills would add professional sports teams, Missouri Botanical Gardens, Square Dancers, and the Lion's Club.

There's even a bill to allow "Respect Life," license plates for contributors to services providing abortion alternatives - a bill that drew fire from the ACLU and those favoring abortion rights.

If all the new license plate bills were passed, this year, there would be 77 different plates for law enforcement officers to recognize.

"From a practical standpoint, it's somewhat frustrating," says Detective Mike Stubbs of the Boone County Sheriff's Department.

Stubbs notes it's difficult to tell when a plate expires - or even what state the driver is from.

It also poses concern for the public. "It's difficult for the public to know what state a driver is from," if they seem somewhat fleeing the scene.

Lt. Chris Ricks, spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said plate proliferation is a concern for the state as well.

"But it's not a problem we can't work through," Ricks adds. "On a major crime, we can just run it through until we find a match."

There is also the possibility the plates may help law enforcement. A driver fleeing a crime scene with a specialty plate may draw more attention to their vehicle.

Funds from plate sales go to the Revenue Department and the institution cited on the plates. Those for professional sports teams are an exception - their funds would go to local agencies supporting tourism.

Lawmaker's own specialty plates are gold - with black letters that indicate what district they're from. Rep. Vicky Riback-Wilson, D-Columbia, said she doesn't like them.

"I prefer anonymity when I'm driving," she says.

Lawmaker's plates may also cause confusion. The "R" before the member's district number stands for Representative - not Republican.

The suspicion critics have raised is that police may be more reluctant to stop a car that is identified as legislator who votes on issues that can affect the pay and retirement benefits of police.