TALLAHASSEE — As they did a year ago, Florida lawmakers this spring approved four new specialty license tags, also extending a self-imposed barrier that hasn't slowed the program.
Starting July 1, pre-sales will start on the four plates — Fallen Law Enforcement Officers, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Keiser University and the Moffitt Cancer Center — signed into law this year by Gov. Rick Scott.
Each plate raises money for the sponsoring organization. The fallen hero tag, which will feature the motto "A Hero Remembered Never Dies" across the bottom, will assist the Police and Kids Foundation, Inc.
The latest tags come despite a "moratorium" lawmakers imposed on new license plates in 2008. The moratorium was set to expire this year, but lawmakers extended it through mid 2016.
Since the moratorium was passed, the number of tags on the road has grown from 113 to 122. Also, lawmakers have since established a 1,000-plate pre-order requirement before actual production of the plate begins.
The new plates also come despite warnings from Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which oversees license plates, officials that the program may have reached a tipping point in terms of sales.
In November, Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Deputy Director Stephen Fielder told a House subcommittee that the market for specialty plates has become saturated.
The base of motorists spending extra for the specialty plates has remained stagnant over the past few years, Fielder said.
"When I had 30 plates, I had 30 organizations competing for 1 million (motorists)," Fielder told the panel. "I now have 120 plates competing for 1 million customers." But a lobbyist for specialty plates said the state needs to make it easier for motorists to purchase them.
"There is a reason that many people aren't able to buy them. The Department of Motor Vehicles will not put an option on the renewal form to go to the specialty plates," said Susan Goldstein, who represents several associations with specialty plates as well as the Florida Association of Specialty License Plates. "You actually have to physically go to the tax collector or DMV to switch to a new plate."
Asked about expanding the offerings for specialty tags online, department spokesman John Lucas responded in an email, "It's strictly a technical reason due to additional fees that (are) involved in such a switch."
The state sold and renewed 1.35 million specialty tags in 2013, up nearly 14,000 from 2012, but still noticeably off from 1.62 million purchased in 2009. Nearly half of the plates have attracted fewer than 5,000 buyers, including 18 with fewer than 1,000 in sales.
Private colleges are among the lowest sellers. Clearwater Christian College has ranked at the bottom of the sales with just 57 plates sold over the past two years.
Top sellers continue to be the University of Florida, Florida State University, Helping Sea Turtles Survive, Protect Wild Dolphins and Protect the Panther.
According to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the $15 to $25 fee on specialty tags generates about $30 million a year, with about $8.6 million going to state revenue for processing fees and the rest divided among different sponsor organizations. Lawmaker support doesn't guarantee the tag will hit the road, however.
Of the four tags approved for pre-sale starting July 1, 2013, Florida Freemasons and Lauren's Kids — a nonprofit group that helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse --- surpassed the 1,000 mark and went on the road earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the American Legion and Big Brothers Big Sisters continue to struggle in the pre-sale world, with each organization selling about 100 plates as of June 2.
In addition to the new plates, production will begin this year on a new special use plate to recognize field medics who accompanied infantry into battle with a Combat Medical Badge plate. The state already offers Combat Action Badge and Combat Infantry Badge plates.