New specialty plates struggle for sales

Hispanic Achievers, St. Johns River plates start 2013 on probation

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Whether you're cheering for the Florida Gators football team or you actually support Florida gators in their natural habitat, there's a plate for that.

Drivers in the market for a new license plate know there's no shortage of design options. But Florida lawmakers have recently made it harder for new tags to be made. Frustrated with the growing number of tags, state legislators passed a new law requiring groups to pre-sell 1,000 plates before manufacturing begins.

In total, Florida offers drivers 120 specialty license plates ranging from the environment to the arts. Two of them are endangered of being nixed, and new measures are in place to make it harder for new tags to be made.

The Hispanic Achievers and the St. Johns River plates both started 2013 on probation. Existing plates are nixed if the specialty tags experience a year with less than 1,000 in orders.

Florida's specialty plate program began 1987. The first tag commemorated the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. 

Already this year, a bill has been filed to create yet another plate. The Sun, Sea and Smiles tag would benefit the Caribbean Charitable Foundation. 

There's a plate for Boy Scouts, but no Girl Scout plate. The ladies are good at selling cookies, but couldn't sell enough tags to stay on the list. Only two other plates have ever been discontinued: the Tampa Storm and Orlando Predators Arena football plates.

"If you don't keep up and don't have 1,000 out on the road in a year, then you get put on probation," said Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, of the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.

"It's hard to get a start-up plate going," said Mark Middlebrook, of the St. Johns River Alliance.

Four-hundred plates dedicated to the river have been sold. Middlebrook said he's confident he'll reach 1,000.

"The St. Johns River has been kind of overlooked as an environmental resource in Florida for many, many years," said Middlebrook.

Specialty tags cost extra. The additional money goes to support the cause. So far, the St. Johns plate has raised $10,000 dollars to protect the river and its tributaries.

Although the Hispanic Achievers and the St. Johns River are a rare find in parking lots across the state, the Choose Life plate is hard to miss.

Shelia Hopkins with the Florida Catholic Conference said that's because it's a consistent top seller.

"It's been a strong plate in Florida and they have over the years been in the top 10 for plates sold," said Hopkins.

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