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Washington state may soon offer a wine-themed license plate similar to the popular one Oregon issues. 
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Washington state may soon offer a wine-themed license plate similar to the popular one Oregon issues.
Credit: Oregon DMV

Put a (Sue) Bird on it: Specialty license plates in the Pacific Northwest are growing

The options to share your fandom or your love of nature through your car license plate keep growing in Oregon and Washington.

But not all license plate ideas go down smoothly: A proposed Washington wine country license plate, like Oregon already offers, drew some whining at the state legislature this week.

The Washington House voted to approve a new San Juan Islands plate, a Mount St. Helens plate and a Seattle Storm women's basketball team plate on Wednesday. But there was a hiccup when a proposed Washington wine license plate came up for debate. State Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell) questioned the convergence of alcohol and cars.

"I don't think it makes sense to be putting a license plate about wine onto cars," Stanford said. "I think this is something that sends the wrong message."

Sour grapes, said supporters of the plate. Rep. Bill Jenkin (R-Prosser) argued that the wine industry deserves tasteful recognition.

"Something like this is great for our state," Jenkin said. "We'll be able to show off our great wines in the form of our license plates."

The Washington House eventually voted 86-9 in favor of authorizing the new license plate and sent the measure onward to the state Senate.

In Oregon, the wine country theme is consistently among the most popular special license plates. The extra fee car owners pay for the wine country plates benefits the Oregon Tourism Commission. The fees generated by the proposed Washington wine license plate would support wine research at the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus.

Oregon drivers will have a new license plate option as of next month. An Oregon Ducks-themed plate will support University of Oregon student scholarships. It'll become Oregon's 31st specialty license plate version currently available.  A new gray whale license plate to benefit the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute launched just last month.

Since 2015, any nonprofit group or college or university in Oregon can apply to the state Driver & Motor Vehicle Services for a custom plate design to benefit their cause without having to get specific legislative authorization. The DMV requires the petitioner to pre-sell 3,000 plates to launch a new specialty plate. Then the themed plate needs to maintain a minimum level of popularity over time. If the number of new buyers of a special plate drop below 2,000 per year, the DMV automatically cancels that version.

"Several have come and gone," said DMV spokesman David House in an interview Thursday.

Keep Oregon Green, a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry, recently announced it sold 3,000 $40 vouchers for a Smokey Bear license plate design. The approved plate design features the iconic bear and the tagline “Keep Oregon Green.” The wildfire awareness partnership said the DMV will release the new plate this summer in conjunction with Smokey Bear 75th anniversary celebrations.

"Almost 90 percent of owners just get the tree plate," said House, referring to the standard background for Oregon license plates. He said the Crater Lake theme is the most popular special plate, followed by the antique-styled Pacific Wonderland plate, then Portland Trail Blazers and Wine Country.

The most popular special license plates in the Evergreen State are a Washington State University plate with the Cougar logo, followed by the Seattle Seahawks fan plate and one that helps maintain the Law Enforcement Memorial in Olympia.

In the Washington Senate, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) cast the lone vote against the proposed Seattle Storm license plate as well as against the new San Juan Islands stewardship plate. According to his spokesman, Schoesler's reasoning is that Washington has enough specialty license plates already. There are currently 53 different specialty themes available, some of which according to the state Department of Licensing have fewer than 200 plates in circulation.

None of the legislation to authorize the four proposed new plate designs has passed through both chambers of the Washington Legislature although the Seattle Storm and San Juan Islands plates are close to reaching the governor's desk.

The additional fee for a specialty plates in Washington is usually around $40 for the first issuance and then $30 per year for renewals. The price can vary in Oregon, but is most commonly $40 extra. [Copyright 2019 Northwest News Network]