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Pinellas Park students design license plate to honor fallen officers

PINELLAS PARK — Florida lawmakers decided years ago to put a halt to new specialty license plates — at least until July 2014.

But a group of earnest teenagers wants to persuade the Legislature to break its moratorium a year early.

The teens have created a specialty plate — featuring two intersecting blue lines, a pair of badges and the phrase "A hero remembered never dies" — to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

And they already have two local legislators willing to champion the effort.

"As politicians, we come up with a lot of ideas," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Wednesday. "Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that come from everyday folks."

This idea began in a Pinellas County classroom. Students enrolled at Pinellas Park High School's Criminal Justice Academy began working on it two years ago, shortly after the death of three St. Petersburg police officers.

Their teacher, Richard Cross, suggested the students channel their emotions into designing a license plate. Afterward, the kids picked their favorite — and told their teacher they wanted to see it become a reality.

Florida already has more than 100 license plate designs, part of the reason the state instituted a moratorium.

"We don't care what it takes," said 16-year-old junior Lauren Lofton. "It's going to happen."

Lofton, whose father is a detective for the St. Petersburg Police Department, knew Sgt. Tom Baitinger, one of the officers killed in 2011.

"He actually taught me to tie my shoes," she said.

Lofton and the other students said they want proceeds from the plate, which would cost $25, to help present and future law enforcement officers.

Latvala and state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, have filed companion bills (SB 712 and HB 911), which would have 70 percent of the fee go toward training and equipment for officers and the remaining 30 percent go toward education.

Numerous local law enforcement officials and Lorraine Yaslowitz, whose husband Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz was killed, attended a news conference Wednesday.

Yaslowitz said she was impressed by the students' "vigor." So were Latvala and Dudley, who said they will do everything they can to get the bills approved this year.

"This is a worthy tribute and a wonderful idea," Dudley said.

Pinellas Park students design license plate to honor fallen officers 02/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:48pm]
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