LINCOLN — Nebraska drivers will soon be able to show their military pride, honor fire and rescue workers, even celebrate the state’s 150th birthday while rolling down the road.
Over the next few months, the number of license plate options in the state will grow substantially.
Where there were only two plates available to the general public five years ago, there will be seven choices by October. The number available to drivers who meet special qualifications will double, going from six choices in past years to 12 by Jan. 2.
A law taking effect Sunday authorizes Nebraska 150 Sesquicentennial license plates to commemorate and celebrate the state milestone that takes place in 2017.
The sesquicentennial plates will go on sale Oct. 1 and be available through the end of 2022.
Plates honoring fire and rescue workers went on sale earlier this summer. Military honor plates will be available to military members and veterans on Jan. 2.
Sara Crook, a Peru State College history professor and chairwoman of the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission, said she plans to be one of the first in line for the sesquicentennial plates.
Sale of the plates will benefit the commission and support 150th birthday programs and events across the state, she said.
In addition, Crook said, the plates will help spread the word about Nebraska and its upcoming celebration.
“The license plate is a great way to advertise across the United States,” she said. “We saw them as a way to say Nebraska is a great place to be and, if you don’t live here, a great place to visit.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts and first lady Susanne Shore are slated to unveil the sesquicentennial plates next week.
The plate design incorporates the stylized ear of corn logo developed for the sesquicentennial.
Crook said it took two long meetings for the commission to settle on a workable design. The design had to meet requirements, such as legibility for law enforcement, and appeal to a wide variety of people.
“There’s a lot of people who are very particular about their license plates,” she said.
Those drivers have a growing variety of plate designs to choose from in Nebraska. Currently, however, fewer than one-half of 1 percent of drivers choose alternatives to the regular license plates, according to Department of Motor Vehicles statistics.
Five years ago, the only two plates available to the general public were regular license plates and Husker Spirit plates.
Other license plates were available to select drivers. Those who qualified could get plates identifying themselves as survivors of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, disabled veterans, families of people who died while in the military or amateur radio operators.
Starting Jan. 2, special plates will be available to drivers who are serving or have served in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard or Coast Guard.
To qualify for the plates, a driver must be enrolled in the state’s veteran registry or be on active duty.
Part of the proceeds from the plates will go to support the state veterans cemeteries.
But the general public is getting new options as well. A law that took effect in 2011 opened the door to greater diversity.
The law allows organizations that meet certain criteria, such as being nonprofit, to propose their own specialty plates. The groups must go through an approval process with the state, then get paid applications from 500 people.
The new plates are issued once the 500 mark has been reached. At that point, the plates are put on sale for anyone to buy.
The Nebraska Serious Injury and Line-of-Duty Death Response Team became the latest group to get license plates under the process. The group offers support to fire departments and families of firefighters killed or seriously injured in the line of duty.
Plates honoring fire and rescue workers went on sale to the general public in mid-July and started appearing on vehicles earlier this month.
Betty Johnson, driver and vehicle records administrator for the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, said the group worked for nearly two years to collect enough preorders for the plates to be issued.
Plates pushed by three other groups — Creighton University, Friends of Union Pacific Railroad Museum and the Nebraska Cattlemen Research and Education Foundation — also are on sale to the public.
More organizational plates are in the pipeline.
Johnson said eight groups have been approved for plates but have not reached the 500 preorder minimum.
Ducks Unlimited has been collecting applications since March and is about halfway to its goal, according to Steve Wilson, the eastern Nebraska regional director.
He said orders would be easier to get if people could personalize the plates with messages, which Nebraska does not allow on organizational specialty plates.
It also would be easier if Ducks Unlimited got some of the money from plate sales, as is the case in many other states, Wilson said.
In Nebraska, the $70 annual cost of organizational plates is split between the highway trust fund and DMV operating expenses. The cost is in addition to regular registration taxes and fees for a vehicle.
In addition, he said, it took two years to win approval for the plates from state officials.
“It’s been pretty frustrating for something that we’re doing just for pride in the organization,” Wilson said. “There are plenty of hurdles that don’t need to be there.”
Three other groups actively collecting applications include:
» Susan G. Komen Nebraska, which has set itself an Oct. 31 deadline for preorders on a breast cancer awareness plate.
» Sammy’s Superheroes, which started seeking orders on a childhood cancer awareness plate in May.
» Living Word Ministries, an anti-abortion group that hopes to add Nebraska to the list of states with a “Choose Life” license plate.
Four groups said they have dropped efforts to get a license plate, after failing to attract enough interest. Among them is the Shriners, which had sought legislative approval of a specialty plate for years.
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This time around, state is picking standard plate
LINCOLN — There will be no contest and no voting when Nebraska looks for a new design to replace the current meadowlark-and-goldenrod license plates.
Betty Johnson, driver and vehicle records administrator for the State Department of Motor Vehicles, said the new look will be developed by department staff, with the governor giving final approval.
She said she expects a decision to be made next spring, so the state has time to produce the plates for use in 2017.
State law requires new license plates be issued every six years.
In 2010, state officials let an online vote decide among four designs for the new plates. They wound up red-faced after a humor website asked followers to cast online ballots for what it called the most boring design and that design won the vote.
Once the prank was discovered, officials recounted the votes and declared a different plate, the one with the meadowlark design, as the winner.
Even without online voting, Johnson said she expects that the new design could still generate controversy.
“Our experience has been, whether contest or no contest, people have a lot of opinions about license plates,” she said.