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Say goodbye to some specialty license plates

Nothing lasts forever.

Dr. Pepper, the National Wild Turkey Foundation and the Fort Worth Zoo are among 56 groups that will no longer grace the bumpers of Texas cars and trucks unless sales pick up.

Under new rules set between the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and My Plates, the company that sells specialty license plates for the state, any designs that do not record sales of at least 200 by mid-December will be permanently removed from circulation as part of an effort to make more money and sell more license plates.

“We have seen a proliferation of plates in the system. Currently, we’re at 160,” said Steve Farrar, president of My Plates, which has held an exclusive contract since 2009. “It is good to do a cleanse from time to time according to what is selling. And this time, it comes as a requirement in the extension of our contract.”

The company’s new contract, which runs through 2019, includes four deadlines over the course of the year. In order to prevent removal, all plates must have 50 pairs sold and in use by March 15. That threshold jumps to 100 in June, 150 in September, and 200 by mid-December, 2015.

Any plate failing to meet sales targets will be permanently removed from the state list, though people who already have those plates could use them until they expire.

Here’s the list of plates that do not currently make the cut; there are 56 in all that are in the danger zone. Rockets and Dynamo fans, you have till the December deadline to express your automotive love for your team. My fellow Trinity alums, we have our work cut out for us. Basically, if you’ve been thinking about getting one of these plates – the website is here – check that list and see if you have the luxury of continued procrastination.

MyPlates doing well

Good for them.

Specialty license plates sales have generated $10.5 million for the state’s general revenue fund so far, and the program will likely exceed the $25 million five-year-contract guarantee from My Plates, a marketing company that provides Texans more custom license plate choices.

My Plates has sold more than 98,000 new plates and renewals halfway through the contract. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles estimates My Plates will surpass it’s obligation if new orders and renewals stay on track.

“The Department is committed to the success of the My Plates program, authorized by the Legislature to raise badly needed revenue for the State’s general fund. I am pleased that My Plates is on track to meet or exceed their $25 million commitment to the State,” Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board Chairman Victor Vandergriff said.

The specialty license plate project “allows Texans to express themselves in a fun way, while also providing additional funding for the state, which benefits us all,” says Randy Elliston, director of the department’s Vehicle Titles and Registration.

The My Plates specialty license program started in November 2009 following legislative action. Lawmakers deserve credit for approving the program, My Plates’ board member Nina Vaca said: “Rather than mandate a new tax or fee to address the State’s debt burden, lawmakers got creative,” she said. “They saw a way that more choices in plates could mean more funding for services to all Texans—without costing taxpayers a dime.”

That’s nice and all, but let’s keep a little perspective amid the rah-rah stuff. That’s ten million bucks over a two year period. The state budget for a biennium is close to $80 billion, which makes the MyPlates revenue a bit more than 0.01% of the total. I’m glad to have it, but it’s not like we’ve uncovered a secret way to avoid taxes or deficits. It’s a tiny drop in a large bucket.

State not appropriating red light camera funds to trauma centers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Not in Houston any more it's not

Sandy Greyson drove away from an Arlington meeting eight years ago, and 2 tons of irony wiped her off the road.

A red-light runner struck her passenger side, pushing the Dallas City Council member’s car into a field. Greyson suffered a broken wrist and a head wound that required 19 stitches.

She was taken to an emergency room similar to the 128 trauma centers in Texas that are supposed to benefit from the state law that allowed red-light cameras.

The law directs a portion of fines generated by the cameras toward trauma centers. But instead of helping hospitals, the money is simply piling up in Austin.

The $46 million pot earmarked for hospitals is helping lawmakers certify a balanced budget even though much of the money in state accounts can’t be used for general expenses. It’s an accounting trick that has been used for years and defended by budget writers who say such maneuvers are necessary in lean times.

Budget writers face a choice: They either have to cut spending or reduce appropriations, said Steven Polunsky, spokesman for Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who wrote the bill that set aside red-light camera funds for trauma centers.

“In the past, the state has appropriated trauma funds,” Polunsky said. “However, the state was in a difficult budgetary situation.”

In their last session, lawmakers set a record by refusing to spend $4.1 billion raised from earmarked fees and taxes. The programs that suffer include electricity discounts for the poor and, in the case of red-light ticket revenue, trauma centers.

That would be the System Benefit Fund that gets frozen, along with such exotica as hunting and fishing license fee funds and the sale of specialty license plates. It’s the oldest trick in the budget-writer’s playbook, because dedicated revenues count as general revenues for budget “balancing” purposes. If you don’t have enough general revenue, just stop appropriating dedicated revenues until everything evens out. You can then declare yourself fiscally responsible, and the only people who get screwed are the ones who thought those revenues that were supposed to be dedicated to them. Everyone else just gets hoodwinked. People like Mr. Polunsky, who conveniently overlook the fact that there is in fact a Door #3 from which to choose to deal with this situation, help to ensure that it persists. The only truly remarkable thing about this story is that it gets written so long after the session. This was as true at the time the budget was printed and posted as it is today, but for whatever the reason it doesn’t make the news until later on. While I seriously doubt it would change the outcome, stories like this should be written before the budget gets passed. At least then no one could say they didn’t know what was about to happen.

Texas SCV sues over Confederate license plate rejection

In November, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles unanimously rejected an application for a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag. The Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans has now filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that decision.

The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court in Austin against the eight DMV board members who voted.

It’s arguing its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. The DMV says it has yet to see the complaint.

More here.

Texas officials turned down a Sons of Confederate Veterans’ request for a specialty plate three years ago, citing rules that banned political or controversial plates. The rules changed two years ago, and the board has since approved all 89 proposed specialty designs.

“We said if we don’t get the plates we’re going to sue them,” Marshall Davis, a spokesman for the group in Austin, told The Times. “There are other organizations that have had to sue their states to get their 1st Amendment rights, and this is the same thing.”

Davis said his group was optimistic it would prevail because “a precedent has been set” in other states.

Nine other states have approved Sons of Confederate Veterans’ specialty plates, but Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina only did so after the group sued. A similar suit is pending in Florida.

Davis said the design, which features a Confederate flag as part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ logo, honors veterans. He said the group planned to use proceeds from plate sales, a portion of which return to the sponsoring group, to educate the public about Civil War history.

Many people, including Governor Perry, expressed opposition to the plates. You can see the SCV’s statement here. I couldn’t find a copy of the suit itself anywhere. I’m sure this will eventually wind up before the Texas Supreme Court, so I expect it will be a few years before we get a final ruling.

DMV votes down Confederate license plates

Good for them.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles’ governing board this morning voted down a controversial proposal for a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag.

The vote was 8-0, with Vice Chair Cheryl Johnson absent.

The decision brought cheers and applause from the packed hearing room near the State Capitol. The decision came after nearly two hours of sometimes-emotional testimony, highlighted by U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, leading a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance while holding up a large U.S. flag.

“There are always those who take the wrong side of history for the right side of politics,” he said. “”This is an opportunity to take the right side of history and the right side of politics.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, an ancestral history group, had sought the plate as a way to raise money for memorials and history projects.

Granvel Block, commander of the group’s Texas division, said a lawsuit was likely. Lawsuits in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland resulted in approval of the specialty plates, after initial turn-downs by a state agency.

“They listened to emotion rather than facts,” Block said, citing “inaccurate information that got off onto everything but our plates.”

I didn’t expect the vote to be unanimous, I’ll say that much. I’m glad they made the right decision, and I hope the state is successful in fending off the lawsuit that will follow. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman is here, and the AusChron has more.

Confederate flag license plate decision coming

Ready or not, here it comes.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is scheduled to debate [this] week whether to create a state license plate with a rebel flag that commemorates Confederate soldiers.

The new agenda posted for the Nov. 10 meeting shows the board will tackle an issue they originally voted on last April, but deadlocked in a 4-4 tie. The motion failed at the time because of the tie, but the chairman promised to reconsider the issue when the full nine-member board would be present.

All board members are Perry appointees, a fact that has not gone unnoticed on the campaign trail.

The board — all appointees of Gov. Rick Perry — tied 4-4 on the tag last April. The member who was absent has since died, and his replacement has not indicated how he will vote.

With Perry now running for president, the controversy over the proposed plate has grabbed national headlines in recent weeks, pitting supporters — who say the tag is designed to honor fallen soldiers and raise money for memorials to them — against vocal opponents who insist the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism that should not be displayed on a state-issued license plate.

Top Perry aides earlier said the governor was only expressing his personal opinion, and planned to leave the decision to the motor vehicle agency’s board. But his opposition, expressed in an interview with a Florida TV station, had widely been seen as a signal that the plate would likely not get a vote anytime soon — if at all.

Once again, Perry may wind up getting punished by the insane Republican base for one of the few decent things he’s done as Governor. I’d relish the irony if it weren’t all so damn depressing.

You know where I stand on this. In the interest of equal time, here’s an op-ed by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson that aruges that the Confederate plates honor history, which he had sent to me after I wrote my piece. Like I said, you know how I feel about this, but you should read what Commissioner Patterson has to say and see what you think.

Perry opposes Confederate license plates

Credit where it’s due.

Gov. Rick Perry does not support a Confederate flag specialty license plate under consideration by the state Department of Motor Vehicles board, he said in Florida this morning.

In an interview with Bay News 9 following a breakfast fundraiser on St. Pete Beach, he said the proposed plates, brought before the DMV board by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, would bring up too many negative emotions.

“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” he said.

[…]

Opponents of the plates, like the liberal group Progress Texas, which collected 22,000 signatures against them, said they hope Perry does get involved and directs his appointees to vote against them.

“Since the governor appointed all nine members on the DMV board, we hope he makes sure they vote down the state -sanctioned use of this racist relic,” said Matt Glazer, the group’s executive director. “We further hope that Jerry Patterson and the Sons of Confederate Veterans will not tie up the courts and legal system on this unnecessary matter so that we can focus on the important issues facing Texas.”

Took him long enough to say something, but at least he said the right thing, and good on him for that. I join Progress Texas and my friend Matt Glazer in the hope that this is the end of it.

Say “No” to Confederate license plates

I’ve been in Texas over 25 years now, but sometimes I just can’t escape my Yankee heritage.

A group of elected officials said Saturday that Texas cannot allow the Confederate flag – which they consider a symbol of oppression – to be put on Texas license plates.

“We cannot allow the state to issue a symbol of intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said to a crowd of community leaders outside the Civil Courthouse in downtown Saturday.

Lee and other officials plan to go to Austin on Nov. 10, when the Department of Motor Vehicles votes on the design, with petitions and a letter from 17 state legislators to persuade them to vote against the license plates.

“We will not go backward; we are going forward,” Lee said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that allowing these license plates would be allowing the people who lost a war to write history. “I’m glad they (the Confederates) lost,” he said. “They were on the wrong side of history.”

Here’s a story about the petitions, a copy of the letter signed by the 19 legislators, a separate letter sent by Rep. Garnet Coleman, and an op-ed in the Statesman, which also ran in the Sunday Chron, against the Confederate plates by Matt Glazer.

Like I said, I’ve been in Texas a long time now, but stuff like this proves to me that you can never truly take the Yankee out of the boy. You can talk all you want about “heritage”, but to me the Confederacy represents a group of people that took up arms against the United States, resulting in the death of over a million people. If they had been successful, the United States as we know it would not exist, and there would be an entirely different country in place as its southern neighbor. (One wonders if either or both countries would be talking about border fences in that scenario.) I cannot understand why anyone would want to commemorate that. Remember it, study it, learn from it, sure, but put it on a license plate? No thanks.

None of this takes into account the racial aspect of the stars and bars, or its sordid history as a symbol of intimidation against African-Americans. Here, my Northernness makes me unqualified to discuss it because I have no experience with it. I can’t say that I ever laid eyes on a Confederate flag until I was in my 20s. But I take seriously the objections and concerns that those who do have a personal history with this have raised, and as Glazer noted in his op-ed, those objections are bipartisan. The reason this is coming to a head now is because a ninth member has been added to the DMV commission that originally voted on this, meaning the next vote will not be a tie. I stand with those who say that this is a bad idea and it should be rejected.

Balancing the budget on the backs of charities

Just another “accounting trick” from our Republican legislature.

Each year, more than 100 organizations — including the University of Texas, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Special Olympics and the Girl Scouts — earn a collective $2.5 million from specialty plates voluntarily purchased by drivers. The $30 plates earn $22 for nonprofits or state agencies, $7.50 goes to the state highway fund, and 50 cents goes to the county in which the vehicle is registered.

Now that money is at risk. In the main budget bill legislators passed last month, officials decided to defer payment on half the money organizations receive through the plates for the next two years. Nonprofits would get $11 per sale. The rest of their money could not be accessed until September 2013 .

The idea is to, in effect, turn that revenue into state income, which helps balance the budget, said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas , which has taken the lead on fighting the proposal and received $330,000 from the fund in 2010.

Nonprofits say the deferred payments will hurt them because they use that money to operate programs and leverage other sources of income, such as federal grants. They also worry that the state could come back in two years and pass another bill directing that money somewhere else.

“Nobody’s taking much comfort in that we’re supposed to get that money in two years,” Stallings said. “The longer it sits there, the more attractive it becomes for the state to want to keep it for some other purpose.”

This is not a new development, by the way. Rep. Geanie Morrison has filed an amendment that would prevent this from happening, so it’s not set in stone yet. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this kind of budget prestidigitation – just ask Rep. Sylvester Turner about the System Benefit Fund, and watch the smoke come out of his ears. Still, this is the sort of thing you should expect when the very idea of raising revenue is anathema. My advice would be to put off getting that “Animal Friendly” license plate till 2013, when the money you spend on it will again go to the cause behind it. We hope, anyway.

A little more room to express yourself

On your vanity license plate.

Texas drivers with more to say on their personalized license plates beyond the current six numbers and letters will have more options.

My Plates, which sells the state-authorized specialty vehicle plates, announced Monday that some plates will be expanded to seven characters starting March 7.

The vendor for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles says the offer, for the new seven-character plate category called Freedom, will run through early March 14.

Go here to get yourself a seven-letter personalized plate while you can. As they say, “A portion of each purchase goes into the state’s general revenue fund”, and Lord knows it can use all the help it can get.

Patrick forced to moderate his ultrasound bill

Somewhat surprisingly, there haven’t been too many egregious attempts to assault reproductive choice this session; that may be partly because there’s only so much farther the Lege can go short of an outright ban, and it may be partly because of the effort put into the “Choose Life” license plates, which was the big rallying point. One of the substantive efforts to meddle in women’s health issues was Sen. Dan Patrick’s ultrasound bill, which thanks to the larger Democratic caucus he was forced to amend.

Women seeking an abortion would be offered — but not required to have — an ultrasound under a scaled-back measure the Texas Senate tentatively approved Thursday.

The original bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would have mandated the ultrasound. Patrick presented an amendment Thursday to his own bill, changing the proposal to say that the woman has to be offered the ultrasound but could say no.

He said the change helped move the measure more quickly through the Senate.

“I didn’t see it weakening our bill. … I saw it as maybe bringing more people to support it, and I think it did,” Patrick said.

[…]

In many cases, women seeking abortions are already offered ultrasounds. For example, Dr. Scott Spear, medical director for Planned Parenthood in Austin, has said that all women who have an abortion there get an ultrasound and are offered the chance to see the image.

The bill is SB182, and Patrick did get enough support for his amended version to pass out of the Senate. Hopefully, the clock will run out before it can pass the House.

The original proposal — touted by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — would have required doctors to perform the ultrasound, make the fetal heartbeat audible and talk to the woman about the picture and the sound. The women would not have been required to look at the image.

“My goal has always been to be sure that a woman going in for an abortion has all the information that she needs to make the right decision, and I think this bill accomplishes that,” Patrick said of the new version.

But Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told Patrick during the debate on the Senate floor, “I believe it’s about shaming a woman.”

That’s exactly what it’s about. If the Dan Patricks of the world really cared about reducing the number of abortions in Texas, they’d support greater access to contraception for those who most need it. But of course they don’t. Kudos to Sen. Davis, who I’ll say again is nice to have around, for calling it like it is. Patricia Kilday Hart and Stace have more.

UPDATE: A statement from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte about the contraception bill Sen. Patrick should have supported if he were remotely sincere about his “concern” for women is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Sometimes the clock is your friend

I’ve said many times by now that the slow pace of this legislative session will threaten the prospects of many a bill. In some cases, that’s a good thing.

After months with little or no action, Texas lawmakers are stirring up the emotional cauldron that always brews with abortion-related bills.

A House committee was hearing testimony on a bill that would require women seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound and be shown the results. A Senate panel on Tuesday approved creating new “Choose Life” license plates.

With less than two months left in a session dominated by fights over voter identification bills, insurance and federal stimulus money, supporters of the major abortion-related bills are hoping they can whip their issue back to the forefront.

“There’s time,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “It’s kind of like an aircraft: Either you have altitude or you have speed. We have less altitude but I think we’re getting speed before you crash … It’s going to be crunch time soon.”

[…]

So far, the ultrasound bill has stalled in the Senate.

The bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican and conservative radio talk-show host, would require women seeking an abortion to have the ultrasound but gives them the option of whether to view the images. It passed the Senate Health and Human Services committee but is stuck waiting for a full Senate vote that may never come.

[…]

In the House, the ultrasound bill has 59 out of the 150 House members signed on in support. It was in the lineup in the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice of Texas, which opposes the ultrasound bill, predicts that’s as far as it will go. House members are still congratulating themselves over passing a unanimous budget and won’t want to peel back the lid on such an emotional issue, Rocap said.

Patrick’s bill is SB182; its House companion is HB36, which had its committee hearing on Tuesday as noted, though no vote yet. That’s probably the most pernicious anti-abortion legislation out there. If the clock runs out on it and the silly “Choose Life” license plates legislation, it’s all to the good. Naturally, all bets are off in the event of a special session, as Governor Perry will surely not miss the chance to do a little overtime pandering to his base. But for now, on these matters, the sands through the hourglass are working in our favor.