Despite concerns expressed by law enforcement officials, Illinois legislators this year may add nine or more new specialty license plates to the more than 60 currently available.
Bob Howlett, deputy director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, said although the association is neutral on the introduction of new plates, they do add to confusion for police officers on the street.
"In general terms, all the specialty plates are not good for law enforcement," Howlett said. "We think there's enough plates out there."
Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, said specialty plates could lead to dangerous situations for Illinois drivers.
He pointed to a 2002 incident in which police in Florida questioned two Hanover Park, Ill., men about alleged terrorist threats that actually had been made by three different men. The two groups were driving cars with Illinois plates that both had the same numbers but were different plate styles.
"Guns were drawn," Rutherford said.
Rutherford's solution is a universal license plate in which stickers area used to promote charitable causes. A universal plate law passed but has never been implemented by the Secretary of State's office.
In all, more than a dozen specialty plate bills were introduced this year, covering interests ranging from NASCAR to Special Olympics to the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.
Other legislation would increase the number of people able to apply for certain specialty plates, such as Korean War license plates for veterans of the Korean War. House Bill 2783 would extend the dates of service eligible for the license plate.
Specialty plates are available from the Secretary of State's office for an extra fee. The extra money is generally deposited in a fund supporting the cause the license plate depicts.
For instance, HB 2808, introduced by Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Hinsdale, would create an Autism Awareness license plate. An extra $40 would be charged for the plate, $25 of which would be deposited into an Autism Awareness fund.
Bellock introduced the legislation at the request of the Illinois Autism Society and Giant Steps Illinois, a school for autistic children in Burr Ridge. She said the education value of the plates is also important.
"(The plates) will raise the awareness of autism in the State of Illinois," Bellock said.
Illinois is not alone in its love of specialty plates. Virginia has more than 180 specialty plates, and Tennessee has more than 130. Texas and Florida both have more than 100 specialty plates available.
Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Mount Sterling, who introduced HB 3395 creating four new plates -- Girl Scout, Gold Award Girl Scout, Boy Scout and Eagle Scout -- said specialty plates are a trendy way to support a charity.
"I think people like to support a cause and they've got to have a license plate anyway," said Tracy, who has had domestic violence license plates and environmental plates on her car in the past.
Tracy said she is aware of the concerns of law enforcement, but said Scouting "is a very worthy cause."
Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker estimates the cost of producing specialty plates is $5.23 a pair, not including the design cost. The Autism Awareness plate legislation specifies the office would receive $15 extra to issue the plates and $2 for each renewal.
In 2006, 23,686 specialty license plates were issued in Illinois, Druker said.
Laura Camper can be reached at 782-6882 or email@example.com.
Specialty license plates proposed this year and their status in the General Assembly:
*Agriculture in the classroom, ovarian cancer awareness: passed both houses.
*Rotary Club, Iraq/Afghanistan Campaign, autism awareness, IPGA Junior Golf, sudden infant death syndrome, Boy/Girl Scouts, Sheet Metal Workers International: passed one house, still alive in second.
*Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, SIDS, Fallen Veterans: failed or were tabled.