Each publicly-funded school in the state of Idaho has custom license plates offered for sale by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) except one - the College of Western Idaho (CWI) in Nampa, the newest college in the state. Officials with the school say there hasn't been interest in pursuing a plate yet, but they are not closed off to the idea. Key lawmakers in the Idaho House and Senate say they believe the legislation could clear the Legislature with ease.
The plates are part of a set offered by ITD in celebrating cultural and historical facts, places, and things around Idaho. Each college or university in the state, including a few privates ones, has a custom plate that is available for purchase at Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices. The plates cost an extra $60 in the initial year and an additional $40 each time the car registration is renewed. Those fees are in addition to regular licensing and registrations costs.
A portion of the fees are handed to the state for deposit in the highway fund, but the majority of funds find their way to the individual schools. Each of the past two years, North Idaho College (NIC) spokesperson Stacey Hudson says, her school has received an average of about $350 in money from the program. Hudson told IdahoReporter.com that the money went directly to the NIC Foundation, an account which gives out student scholarships for college tuition and other expenses. Doug Maughn, communications director for the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, said that in 2009, his school received a total of $575, though he noted the amount varies from year to year. Like NIC, Maughn explained, CSI also used the money to fund scholarships.
The reason CWI doesn't yet have a plate is not due to lack of interest, officials say, but is rather due to the newness of the school. CWI was formed a little more than a year ago, when residents of Canyon County, where the school is found, went to the polls in support of creating the institution. Jennifer Couch, a representative with the school, said that school officials simply have had other things to do to start up new programs and classes for CWI and haven't yet considered pursuing. When asked if school officials would be open to supporting legislation to create the new plate, Couch replied, "possibly."
The process for creating a new custom license plate isn't easy. Lawmakers in both chambers of the Idaho Legislature must approve the plates. Two plates, one celebrating mountain biking in Idaho and the other commemorating north Idaho's Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness, were approved in the 2010 legislative session. Mark Browning, communications officer with the State Board of Education, said that the board would likely be in favor of the move if CWI decided to support creation of its own plate. "If the board of trustees at CWI wants to move forward with legislation to include CWI in the current code, I can't think that our board wouldn't be supportive. Our board was very supportive of the creation of the college and quite instrumental in bringing that to fruition," said Browning in an e-mail to IdahoReporter.com.
If it is decided to pursue a custom plate of its own, the school would have to find a lawmaker who would sponsor legislation to do so. That legislator would also be responsible for securing enough votes in both chambers to ensure its passage. That's where Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, steps in. In an interview with IdahoReporter.com, Bolz said that he would work to push the legislation if asked to do so by CWI officials. "In fact, I've got a meeting with the president of CWI next Monday morning, so I will bring that up," said Bolz.
If Bolz and CWI officials decide to push the plate, the legislation would likely go first before the House Transportation and Defense Committee, which is chaired by Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. Wood said that she didn't think a plate for CWI would face much opposition from members of her committee. "Since all the universities and colleges have one, I don't think it would be much of a problem," said Wood.
From there, the legislation would go before the Senate Transportation Committee. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur D'Alene, the vice chairman of the committee, said he believes there is little reason to keep CWI from having a plate. When asked if legislation to create the plate would pass his committee, Hammond said, "I think most likely, if not only to be fair." He said that some lawmakers may show opposition to the legislation, but not necessarily CWI itself. "There are some that oppose the variety of plates out there, but it hasn't been enough to stop the plates that have gone through recently," Hammond said. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, and Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, have both professed to not being fans of custom license plates.
Idaho currently offers more than 70 custom and souvenir license plate choices, including 10 for Idaho's public and private colleges and universities.