By JOHN HOWELL
Action in the waning hours of the legislative session could give Rhode Island motorists a range of new license plate designs to choose from while showing off some of their favorite …
By JOHN HOWELL
Action in the waning hours of the legislative session could give Rhode Island motorists a range of new license plate designs to choose from while showing off some of their favorite places in the state, such as Rocky Point, or supporting of an institution such as Providence College or a commemorative celebration such as Gaspee Days.
Lawmakers approved a measure that effectively lowers the 600 pre-order threshold for a charity plate to be issued to 150 pre-orders with deadline and payment provisions to put plates within reach of some organizations that have been working to get plates issued for more than five years.
“In the grand scheme of things, license plate legislation is seemingly trivial. However, our legislature can walk and chew gum at the same time. So when we have a chance to pass legislation that will benefit various charitable organizations, it’s a slam dunk to do,” said Rep. Evan Shanley in a text following passage of the bill.
As of Monday, DMV director Walter (Bud) Craddock hadn’t seen the final version of the legislation. He asked those organizations meeting the requirements of the legislation to be patient as the department will need to gear up to produce the plates that starts with the manufacture of the plates by 3M.
Shanley of Warwick as well as House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi worked with the Rocky Point Foundation and a coalition of non profits over the past four years to amend the charity plate legislation. The experience of the Rocky Point Foundation is common to other non-profits including the Gaspee Days Committee, Boy Scouts, Saltwater Anglers, Providence College and the Providence Bruins. As they the organizations picked up plate orders, they get also requests for reimbursements from people sick of waiting.
Soon after legislators approved a Rocky Point Plate, a bill introduced by Warwick Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr., the organization ran a contest among career and technical schools to come up with a design. That was followed by online voting of more than 20 submissions. With three designs garnering close to the same number of votes, the foundation turned to the artists and asked if they could collaboratively come up with a plate. They did and soon after a giant sized version of the plate was unveiled at a press conference and orders at $42.50 started coming in.
But then the magnitude of attaining the 900 required pre-orders for the DMV to issue the plates threw a dampener on initial enthusiasm. Shekarchi arranged a meeting between members of the Rocky Point Foundation at Department of Motor Vehicles Director Walter (Bud) Craddock. Craddock was agreeable to lowering the 900 threshold but not to the 150 Rocky Point and others suggested. Craddock reasoned the 150 would be too costly, leaving the agency to program and produce an insufficient number of plates to cover costs. The Saltwater Anglers have subsequently ended its campaign for a charity plate.
Craddock didn’t oppose legislation reducing the pre-orders (the non-profits are required to take the registration information and the payments) to 600. However, while that moved the goal line, it didn’t make it anymore attainable for most non-profits.
People who ordered and paid for plates wanted to know when they would get them. Others had moved out of state or sold their cars and looked for a refund. Yet, orders trickled in from those who looked on the DMV website and learned of the organizations and causes they could support through charity plates. Of the $42.50 for a charity plate, $22.50 goes to the DMV and $20 goes to the non-profit.
Proceeds from the plates have been a source of funding for the preservation and maintenance of Plum Beach Light in the shadow of the Jamestown Bridge. That organization was one of the first to successfully meet the pre-order requirements at the time and to establish a source of income to assist its mission.
As Craddock said in committee hearings and reemphasized Monday, charity plates aren’t a bonanza for non-profits. He noted that even given the following of the Patriots and the Red Sox that have Rhode Island plates, collectively the two teams have only about 5,000 plates. Plum Beach Light with 8,000 plates statewide is among the most popular charity plate. The charity gets $20 for every plate ordered or renewed, roughly $16,000 every two years.
“Charity plates really don’t serve the purpose. They’re better off going for legislative grants. I just don’t see it,” he said.
Money is not a sole goal of organizations looking for a plate. The Rocky Point Foundation is looking to give Rhode Islanders the opportunity to share their affection for a venue so filled with fond memories.
Steven Maurano, associate vice president of public affairs at Providence College, said that the college has about 400 pre-orders and that expects once the plates are on vehicles orders will pick up, especially if the Friars do well. He doesn’t view the plates as a money maker, but rather as a means of raising visibility.
Following the reduction from 900 to 600 pre-orders, bills in successive sessions of the General Assembly pursued a 150 requirement. George Shuster, Vice President of the Rocky Point Foundation reached out to other states to see how they handle charity plates. He found that some required a minimal number of pre-orders while others were more restrictive than Rhode Island’s 600. A 150 requirement would put Rhode Island somewhere in the middle.
Shuster also developed a proposal to address the upfront losses faced by the DMV by lowering pre-orders to 150. Shanley incorporated the proposal in a bill that with Shekarchi’s blessing passed the House last year but didn’t make it in time for Senate action.
This year Shanley introduced the same bill in the House where it was amended to apply to the Rocky Point Foundation. When the original non-amended bill introduced by Senator Stephen Archambault came before committee it was supported by the Gaspee Days Committee and Rocky Point. There was no opposing verbal or written testimony from the DMV. No vote was taken.
In the closing days of the session, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey of Warwick was contacted by Providence College as to the restrictive nature of the amended House bill applying only to Rocky Point. In the final hours of the session, the measure was expanded to not only include those non-profits falling short of the 600 threshold but those recently gaining legislative approval of a charity plate. The concession was to increase from $22.50 to $30 the non profit payment to the DMV for per non pre-ordered plate between 150 and 600 pre-paid orders.
Craddock believes legislators have granted 30 non-profits charity plates. He couldn’t say how many have reached 150 pre-orders or that they have gained approval of a design. But he’s wary of a demand to issue charity plates.
“Hopefully, we don’t get whacked,” he said. Organizations meeting provisions of the legislation might need to be prioritized in order for the department to do its day to day work as well as issue new charity plates.
But now, given enactment of the legislation, those who ordered charity plates will finally have an expectation of getting them in a reasonable period of time.
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