Non-profit organizations in Iowa might have a better shot at getting specialty license plates promoting their particular mission under a bill expected to get legislative consideration this week.
A Senate subcommittee is slated to take up a bill offered by Sen. Chris Brase, D-Muscatine, that would authorize the state Department of Transportation to issue special vehicle registration plates containing a space to place a DOT-approved decal produced, issued and sold by qualifying organizations.
Brase said the idea is modeled after South Dakota’s decal vehicle registration plates as a way to slow the proliferation of specialty plates, save DOT design costs, and enable smaller groups that can’t meet the minimum 500 paid applications to get their own plates to get some recognition.
“I think it’s a win-win situation for the DOT, for the state and for our organizations that want to utilize it,” said Brase, who authored Senate File 237, which is slated for subcommittee action Tuesday.
“I think it will simplify the process in the future,” he added. “The current specialty plates in existence will continue. This would affect any future designs down the road only.”
Under current law, anyone may submit a request to DOT officials for approval of a new special registration plate with a processed emblem. If the department approves the request and the design of the proposed emblem, a minimum of 500 paid applications are required before the department begins issuing the plate.
The department may cancel its approval if sufficient applications are not received within one year.
A vehicle owner is charged a fee of $25 for the issuance of the special plates, and an annual $5 validation fee for renewal — fees that are deposited in the road use tax fund. An alternative process allows for a state agency to sponsor a special registration plate, with fees of $35 for issuance and $10 for renewal that are credited to the sponsoring state agency.
S.F. 237 eliminates the current process for a person to request a new special plate and eliminates state agency sponsorship of new special plates.
Under the bill, the department – effective Jan. 1, 2014 — will begin issuing special registration plates with a space reserved for placement of an organization decal to be designed, produced, and issued by a qualifying organization rather than the department. The plates will be available without an additional special plate fee at the time of initial registration of a vehicle, and will be renewed annually upon payment of the regular annual registration fee for the vehicle.
A $5 replacement fee applies if the plates are issued in exchange for regular or special plates. The new plates also will be available as personalized plates upon payment of personalized plate fees.
The department may establish criteria for decal designs — including that a decal shall not promote a specific religion, faith, or anti-religious sentiment, shall not have any sexual connotation, and shall not be vulgar, prejudiced, hostile, insulting, or racially or ethnically degrading.
A qualifying organization must be a nonprofit corporation with at least 200 members, whose primary activity or interest serves the community, contributes to the welfare of others and is not discriminatory. A group of such organizations with a common purpose may also be approved to issue a decal.
The bill specifies that organizations that promote a specific product or brand name are not eligible to issue organization decals.
“I think it opens up the door and makes this a lot more viable program,” Brase said.
An organization desiring to issue a decal must apply to the DOT for approval by submitting information concerning its nonprofit corporation identity along with a copy of the proposed decal design, certification of legal rights to use the design, and an explanation of the purpose of the decal, eligibility requirements, and fees the organization will charge for the decal.
If the department approves the application, the organization is responsible for the production, administration, and issuance of the decal, and any fees charged by the organization for the decals will be retained by the organization. The bill prohibits any organization from issuing a decal without the approval of the department. The bill also prohibits a person from displaying a decal other than an approved decal on a vehicle registration plate.
DOT spokesman Michael Derby said his agency is supportive of the decal option.
Anyone violating the provisions of S.F. 237 relating to vehicle registration plates commits a simple misdemeanor punishable by a scheduled fine of $20.