January 21, 2009
The Sons of Confederate Veterans wants its Florida specialty license plate.The group — composed of descendants of Confederate soldiers — filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court to force the state to approve one designed with Confederate flags.Last year, the group attempted to get lawmakers to pass a bill that would add its plate to the list of dozens of other specialty tags. The organization spent years completing the requirements: a $60,000 application fee, a marketing strategy and a survey with 30,000 motor-vehicle owners who say they intend to buy the tag.
Money raised from the sale of the plate would go toward improving veteran cemeteries, academic grants and scholarships, John Adams, lieutenant commander of the group's Florida division, said last week.A roadblock arose when the House of Representatives Infrastructure Committee chairman refused to bring the bill up for a vote — killing the proposal, according to the lawsuit. No Senate bill was ever sponsored.Lawmakers sent the message that no matter what the group does, the specialty tag might never happen, said the group's attorney, Fred O'Neal.Lawmakers also agreed on a moratorium on new specialty plates until 2011.State Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is named in the lawsuit in his role as Senate transportation-committee chairman, said he would like to comment but can't because it's an ongoing legal issue.The group has fought similar battles for "Confederate Heritage" plates in other states with some success, according to the lawsuit.Adams said the state fears how popular the tag could become. "A lot of people want this plate," he said.O'Neal said the issue is similar to getting a parade permit, which often needs approval from a city or county. If a group meets the requirements, city leaders can't deny the permit because they disagree with the message, he said.The group wants the court to compel the state to issue the plate. If not, the group then will suggest the court declare the specialty-plate law unconstitutional.The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Co. newspaper.