The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 31, 2013

Legislature declines to add more special license plates

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

— Legislative resistance to adding to the already long list of special vehicle license plates  has trumped impassioned pleas by Janesville residents seeking a new license plate supporting breast cancer victims.

Several Janesville residents, led by John and Dawn Jesse, testified before the Minnesota House Transportation Policy Committee in February about how breast cancer has impacted multiple women in the Waseca County town of about 1,600. And they asked the committee to support legislation to create a new license  plate displaying the pink breast cancer ribbon and the words “Minnesota Cares.”

“These plates, when women see them — the ones who are going through this horrible disease — they can look and say, ‘Wow, you know what? People care about me. They care about what’s happening to us women,’” said John Jesse, whose mother, sister and wife have all recovered from breast cancer.

His wife Dawn Jesse described the discovery of a lump in November of 2005 when she was 37 years old. She found it early, but it was growing fast.

“It doubled in size in 13 days,” Dawn Jesse said. “I was looking at a death sentence hadn’t it been found.”

For Dawn Jesse, the license plates — along with providing emotional support to cancer victims — would be a great opportunity to remind women to regularly check for lumps and be screened for cancer.

The legislation, which also would generate money for cancer research by applying a $20 surcharge on people who request the plates, is sponsored by Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Lake Hanska.

But Minnesota already has scores of license plate variations, ranging from plates highlighting state universities to plates honoring soldiers to plates promoting environmental causes. The plates typically carry a separate added charge but sometimes generate little demand and may be a money loser for the state.

Some law enforcement groups have also complained that the myriad plates make it difficult for them to quickly spot a plate number related to a crime report.

Janesville is in the House district represented by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, but Cornish declined to sponsor the bill being pursued by the Jesses and other city residents.

“I told them it would be really hypocritical of me, because I’ve stood on the House floor saying, ‘Please, no more license plates,’” said Cornish, a retired law enforcement officer.

The problem is that there are so many, often with a lot of ornamentation, he said. It makes it harder to spot a specific number when law enforcement agencies are seeking a vehicle in an emergency situation — say a car-jacking or an abduction.

“It really inhibits law enforcement effectiveness,” Cornish said.

John Jesse implored the committee to add just one more special plate.

“I’m obsessed with this just from the fact that I have my wife now. I have my mother now. I have my sister again,” he said, noting that lawmakers could add themselves to the list of life-savers who are honored by existing plates such as firefighters. “... We all have our heroes. We’re not all firemen or policemen or military or school teachers. ... But this is the opportunity, folks, this is the opportunity we could all be heroes. We can save a life.”

The breast cancer plates, however, weren’t the only ones being requested this year. Other bills attempted to create plates promoting organ donation, the American Red Cross and retired firefighters.

Just before the Legislature’s Easter/Passover break, transportation policy bills were finalized in the House and Senate that added no new license plates and eliminated one — a plate that could be purchased by World War I veterans.