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Snakes on a plate

The General Assembly won’t return to Richmond until January, but the annual exercise in minting new specialty license plates is in gear already.

Virginia must have more specialty/vanity tags than just about any other state in the country. And for members of the General Assembly, specialty plates must be a constituent service bonanza, or an annoyance. Or both.

Here’s how it works: A well-meaning group with an interest, cause or passion wants a specialty license plate to share that enthusiasm with the world. A friendly legislator introduces a bill to authorize that plate. The measure has to pass the Assembly, and once it’s actually approved, 350 people have to submit a prepaid application before it will be produced. If all that happens, you’ll be seeing the new plate on cars not long thereafter.

A lot of plates never make it. A lot do. For example, you can get a Jimmy Buffett parrothead plate, plates for a variety of Washington-area sports teams or tags for a number of colleges.

If you like politics on your car’s tag, you can “Choose Life” or “Trust Women/Respect Choice.” You can get a Confederate heritage license plate. Or “Tobacco Heritage,” which is much more genteel than a bumper sticker that reads, “I smoke and I vote.”

There are a few license tag bills already in the hopper for the 2011 Assembly, carried over from this year. These include plates for backers of Relay for Life and Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Del. Richard P. Bell, R-Staunton, with House Bill 1408, is trying again to get the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on a license plate.

Here’s something new.

Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, has introduced House Bill 1418, which would create a plate with a recreation of the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag from revolutionary times. The bill doesn’t say it, but this plate is a nod to the Tea Party movement, which has been using the snake flag, also known as the Gadsden flag, as one of its rallying symbols.

While the Virginia snake-flag plate effort appears to be the first, Tea Party conservatives aren’t stopping in Virginia. The Dallas News reported that Texas is also mulling a “Don’t Tread on Me” tag.

Once Virginia and Texas started the movement, a legislator in Nevada jumped on board the bandwagon, according to the Las Vegas Sun. That leaves 47 states to be heard from.

Considering that specialty plates require payment of an additional fee, more than one left-leaning blogger has noted there’s a small irony at work here: Tea Party members never have seemed so willing to write the government a check.

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