License plate might keep the light on

Lighthouse buffs and state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen have faith that drivers would be willing to pay extra for special license plates that support their cause.

Haugen, D-Camano Island, has introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow drivers to pay $40 for a special new plate featuring lighthouses. The voluntary fee would be in addition to the state’s regular license fees. To renew the plates in subsequent years, drivers would pay $30, according to the bill.

For more information about Admiralty Head Lighthouse, go to www. admiraltyhead.wsu.edu.

The primary beneficiary would be Admiralty Head Lighthouse’s nonprofit education and restoration programs. The 102-year-old lighthouse is at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island.

Other lighthouses in the state would be eligible to apply for the remainder of the funds generated by the special plates if the Legislature approves the bill.

The only criteria for lighthouses to be eligible is that they must be open to the public and staffed by volunteers, said Gloria Wahlin, Admiralty Head Lighthouse coordinator.

Wahlin said many lighthouses have indicated interest, including the Mukilteo lighthouse.

Supporters of the bill are buoyed by the success of recent plates benefiting stadiums, police, firefighters and universities. Haugen sponsored a bill last year that created a new plate supporting the Masonic Temple’s program to help children with speech disabilities.

“I have really supported the creation of special license plates,” she said, because it gives people the opportunity to support a cause and then display that support. At the same time, it doesn’t force others to pay for it, she added.

Haugen said she believes the bill has support in the Senate. Concerns may be raised in the House, but she still is hopeful for its prospects.

Lawmakers will have a lot of new license plates to consider this session.

Eleven different bills have been introduced that would create 17 new plates if they all pass, said Jennifer Dana, the state’s special license plates program manager. The proposals are coming from the state’s wildlife and parks agencies, a group promoting bicycle safety and the snow-sport industry, to name a few.

The boom in requests can be traced back to legislation passed in 2003, when nonprofit groups, governments, tribes and colleges were allowed to apply to a new license plates review board. Previous legislation created licenses plates for colleges in 1994.

Of the first $40 fee, the state would get $12 to cover startup administrative costs. In addition, the state would require each of the benefiting groups to cover about $31,000 in implementation costs. They could pay upfront or take it out of their portion of the fee, which would be $28 a plate. That would require selling 1,038 plates, Dana said – not much of a problem if the plates prove popular.

“It’s very possible to pay back the money within the first year,” Dana said. “Firefighters sold enough plates to repay the state within two days.”

The new lighthouse plates, if approved, would be available in 2006.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@heraldnet.com.

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