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It’s the year of the license plates in the state Legislature

JP Patches sample plate. (KIRO 7 image)

From everyone’s favorite TV clown, JP Patches, to wine country, the Seattle Storm, and veterans and their families, there’s a lot of interest in specialized license plates within the state Legislature.

There are more than a half-dozen bills either creating or modifying the rules around special license plates, three of which involve existing special plates for veterans or their families.

Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli is behind HB 1197, which would eliminate vehicle license and MVET fees for Gold Star families. Gold Star families are parents, spouses or other relatives of U.S. troops killed in action or related support action. In Washington state, there are roughly 350 such people who receive the free, specialized plate in honor of their fallen military family member. Right now, those families have to renew their tabs like the rest of us, which generally isn’t an issue. It’s the recent experience of one Washington State Gold Star family that prompted Riccelli to file the bill.

“It’s, I think, a small token to show our support and really take a situation that shouldn’t have occurred and remedy it for the future,” Riccelli said in a committee hearing this week.

Matt Lyons and his wife, Kirsten, lost their son, Sgt. Jacob Michael Hess, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2014. They got a specialized plate, but when they went to renew their plate there was a glitch in the system and they were essentially forced to prove again their son was killed.

“We left the office [DOL] with our tabs renewed but, frankly, shaken and more than a little bit angry at having been put through this ordeal in the first place,” Hess’ step-father, Matt Lyons, told the committee.

Then his wife, Hess’ mom, made an emotional plea to the committee where there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“Just ask you to do what you can to make sure that this does not happen to another family … and that none of us would ever have to sit or stand in front of a counter and recertify that our hearts are broken and that our children’s feet are no longer firmly planted on this Earth,” Hess’ mom said, fighting back tears.

Riccelli says there has been strong support for the bill, so he is hopeful it will pass and no family will ever have to endure this in the future. He says it is the least we — Washington state — can do for these Gold Star families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Another bill, from Democratic Rep. Lisa Callan, would do the same thing for the specialized plates for Purple Heart recipients.

“I believe Washington’s Purple Heart recipients deserve more than just a thank-you for the dedication, their service, and their tremendous sacrifice — the sacrifice that is allowing us to do what we’re doing here today — exercising the democracy that they fought for ” Callan said during debate on the House floor earlier this month.

Another bill, that passed the House and is now up for consideration in the Senate, would modify the requirements for specialized plates for disabled veterans, which now require certification a veteran is medically considered 100 percent disabled. HB 1707 would lower that threshold to 70 percent disabled to qualify for the plate.

Special license plates

There are a handful of other bills for new license plates, including:

HB 1996, which creates a special plate for the San Juan Islands: “A new special license plate is created that displays a symbol or artwork recognizing the San Juan Islands. The net proceeds will be distributed to the Madrona Institute. A fee of $40 will be charged for an initial San Juan Islands stewardship special license plate and $30 for an annual renewal.”

HB 2050 creates a special license plate in honor of Washington wines. Net proceeds from the “Washington Wine special plate will be directed to support research and collaboration with the wine science facility at Washington State University’s Tri-Cities campus, the Vineyard and Winery Technology program at Yakima Valley College, the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, and the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College. A fee of $40 will be charged for an initial Washington Wine special license plate and $30 for an annual renewal.”

HB 2085 creates a specialized plate in honor of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. The Mount St. Helens special license plate is created with the purpose of providing funds to the Mount St. Helens Institute to promote education, stewardship, and science at Mount St. Helens. A fee of $40 will be charged for an initial Mount St. Helens special license plate and $30 for an annual renewal.

HB 2062 is in honor of the Seattle Storm. “A new special license plate is created that displays the Seattle Storm team logo. From the net proceeds, up to $25,000 per year, would be distributed to the Legislative Youth Advisory Council. Any remaining net proceeds would be distributed to the Association of Washington Generals for the purpose of providing grants to support and enhance athletic, recreational, and other opportunities for women and girls, and especially those with disabilities. A fee of $40 will be charged for an initial Seattle Storm special license plate and $30 for an annual renewal.”

There’s also a separate Senate bill for the Storm license plate.

There is the plate for every Pacific Northwesterners favorite TV clown – J.P. Patches.

“To help commutate and pay tribute to the indelible impact and legacy that J.P. and Gertrude left after decades of tireless giving,” Chris Rimple, the citizen organizer behind the effort, told the Senate Transportation committee this week.

“We’ve galvanized the community in support of the creation of a Patches Pal license plate,” he added.

Democratic Rep. John Lovick sponsored the bill, which managed to bring a smile and inspire laughter in multiple committee hearings this session.

“For all of you — all of us who are J.P Patches and Gertrude fans — the wait is almost over,” Lovick said during a recent committee hearing before admitting he was a Patches Pal. He got the rest of the room to admit the same.

The Patches Pal special license plate would cost $40 for the initial purchase and then $30 for renewals with the money raised from the plate benefiting the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Strong against Cancer Program — a cause extremely close to J.P. Patches’ heart.

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