Florida's Division of Motor Vehicles has a nifty little business underway : specialty license tags. These are not the vanity tags seen on automobiles that spell (or mis-spell) names and nicknames such as "Dr Bob" and "Lil Sindi". Those tags are a one-off, issued only to the vehicle which displays it.

The specialty tag, on the other hand, must be requested by a petition from 15,000 registered drivers and is produced in the thousands by special legislation of the state government. They support a particular cause such as "Remember the Challenger astronauts" or "End Breast Cancer", cost between $17 and $27 more than a regular license plate, and the funds are supposed to benefit the designated cause or institution.

These special auto tags have their own custom artwork, sometimes tasteful, sometimes otherwise. Broad subject categories as shown on Florida's website are Environmental (11), Sports Teams (9), Universities and Colleges (31), and Miscellaneous (20).

That adds up to 71 tags, but the State of Florida has just issued its 89th tag, "Stop Child Abuse". Apparently the tags are being issued faster than the website can be updated. And therein lies the problem.

Specialty tags sold for private vehicles have been around for some years now in the Sunshine State. They have reached such proportions that the State Senate in Tallahassee is considering legislation to ban any new ones. In 2003 alone, 32 new tags were introduced. Fortunately, a number were taken out of circulation : state law proclaims that any tag selling less than 8,000 in five years must be scrapped.

Included among the tags scheduled for destruction were the one honoring the Girl Scouts of America (706 total sales) and several for local sports teams in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas that performed less than brilliantly.

The all time favorites are "Protect the Panther" and "Save the Manatee" with 100,585 and 85,408 sales or renewals respectively in 2003. They have held first and second place for three years. After the most popular ten tags, however, the sales figures diminish rapidly. Sales in 2003 of the 11th through 20th next popular averaged barely over 10,000 each and the numbers continue to decrease until the last 32 tags, introduced in 2003, sold less than 6,000 between them.

Popular or not, all of those tags are out there on the highways and byways, in so many different styles and colors that police find it difficult to identify and keep track of them. It is also getting to be an embarrassment to the State of Florida. There seem to be almost as many different license plates in Florida as there are bumper stickers. And some official license plates are difficult to link to Florida.

One that has already been approved and is in the early stages of production is a specialty tag with the money designated for food banks. It will feature a likeness of the late John Lennon and be stamped with the word, "Imagine". What does this have to do with Florida? John Lennon's only apparent connection with the state is that he once appeared with the Beatles on an Ed Sullivan show in Miami Beach. His reaction to having his face on the rear end of Florida rust buckets can only be imagined.


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