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Florida Senate approves religious license plates

TALLAHASSEE — If you want Jesus on your license plate, the Florida Senate is looking out for you.

Because why worry about a budget impasse or property insurance when you can spend more than an hour talking about Jesus, the devil and license plates?

Religious specialty plates offered by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, made it onto a bill Friday even though many members had not seen images of those plates and none was produced for the debate.

Siplin didn't mince words when asked what his "Trinity" plate looks like, saying, "It has a picture of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ." It, along with a "Preserving the Past" plate offered by Siplin, would benefit the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences.

Storms' "I Believe" plate would benefit Faith in Teaching, an Orlando company that funds faith-based programs at schools. Its design features a cross over a stained-glass window.

Several members had concerns about approving plates they had not seen. And one questioned using religious symbols at all.

"The issue is whether the state of Florida ought to be producing license plates with religious images on them," said Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, "and I don't believe that we should."

Before the day was over, the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU registered opposition and across the hall in the House, proposals for the same plates were withdrawn from legislation.

Florida has more than 100 specialty plates, with several new ones proposed this year.

Coming Monday: A push to eliminate all specialty plates within two years in favor of specialty stickers sold for use on standard Florida license plates. It's the idea of Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who said it will save the state money, generate more revenue for charities and most important, help "law enforcement clearly and swiftly identify a Florida license plate."

"What this does is it lets automobile owners have choice 1 and 2, both options, and to generate more money for the charities involved," Crist said. "It's a win-win situation."

Crist doesn't have a prototype of his idea, but said there would be two spots on each plate for maybe 2-inch-by-2-inch stickers, in the bottom right and left corners.

So, if you are a University of Florida graduate who loves manatees, you can support both on your tag. Crist, who will offer the amendment Monday, said the senators he has talked to really like the idea.

But those options would come too late for Friday's debate in the Senate, where Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, invoked the devil to make her point: "What if someone comes next year and decides to vote on something that has the devil on it, and horns, horns on each side. I know that people are called the devil, but if the symbol of a devil is on it, I would not vote for that."

After a not-so-simple vote (two voice votes, a voided roll call vote, two quorum calls and finally one that counted), the amendment with Siplin's tags was adopted 22-13. Storms' tag passed on a voice vote.

For his part, Siplin said FAMU has a snake on its plate and the University of Miami has "a duck or something on their license plate so I think we should have an opportunity for every citizen around the state to be able to purchase a license plate of their choice."

Siplin wasn't bothered by the opposition, saying, "If you don't like that particular license plate, you're not forced to buy it."

Florida Senate approves religious license plates 04/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 9:18am]
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