Miss. lawmakers approve dozens of specialty car tag designs

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Are you a quilter? A blues lover? A Boy Scout?

Do you want to make a daily, driving declaration of “In God We Trust” or “Thank a Teacher”?

Mississippi lawmakers have voted to give drivers new ways to express themselves on the back bumpers of their cars or trucks. Each specialty tag costs $30 a year, on top of the local taxes drivers already pay for a generic license plate.

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A bill approved last week, in the final days of the 2007 legislative session, authorizes dozens of new specialty license plates to go with the hummingbirds, the university symbols and the “Choose Life” cartoon children that already adorn thousands of tags.

Gov. Haley Barbour has a mid-April deadline to sign or veto the bill.

There’s one section that might give the Republican governor reason to pause. It would create a tag for supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party, and $24 of the $30 collected on each Democratic tag would go to the party.

The bill would not authorize a Mississippi Republican Party specialty tag — despite the fact that three of the six lawmakers who negotiated, and agreed to, the final version of the bill are Republicans.

One of them, Sen. Richard White, R-Terry, said Monday he wasn’t aware he had signed off on creating a tag for his political competitors, but he didn’t seem fazed by it.

Noting that 300 people have to say they’ll buy most specialty designs before a single one can be produced, White said: “The Democrats probably will have trouble selling 300.”

He also said lawmakers can try to create a Republican tag another year, if the GOP wants it.

“We’re so busy trying to take care of everything and give good service to the people, we don’t think of things like that,” White said of Republicans.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the governor wants to study the bill before saying whether he’ll sign it into law.

The bill specifically mentions a few schools or school districts as being eligible for specialty tags — Oak Grove, Ridgeland, Leake County, Lumberton Line and Hancock County.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, told the House last week that because there seemed to be widespread interest in creating school tags, provisions were put in the final version of the bill to let any public school district have its own tag if enough are sold.

Breandan Biesinger, a freshman at Oak Grove High School, said he’s hoping to get his driver’s license — and his own set of wheels — in the next few months. Asked about the possibility of getting an Oak Grove car tag, Biesinger, 15, said Monday: “That’d be cool.”

Joan Nance of Noxapater, former treasurer of Mississippi Quilt Association, said she likes the idea of the group getting its own tag, even if she’s not sure she’ll pay the extra $30.

“I’m on a fixed income now. I’m going to have to think about that a little,” said Nance, who’s retired. “It is a good thing to promote quilting.”

The “In God We Trust” tag would raise money for Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA or Salvation Army.

The “Mississippi, Home of the Blues” tag would raise money for a blues heritage fund.

The bill is House Bill 909.