BOISE – If former Idaho Congressman Bill Sali came back to the Legislature next year to pitch his proposal for a special “In God We Trust” license plate to benefit his new non-profit heritage education group, he wouldn’t qualify, under legislation that headed to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk on Friday.
The bill, SB 1243a, is an amended version of Sen. Jim Hammond’s measure to limit future specialty license plates in Idaho to those that benefit government functions. That part’s gone, under House amendments, but a new clause was added, requiring any non-profit agency that applies for a new specialty plate to “submit evidence to the department that the applicant has 501(c)(3) federal income tax status that has been in existence for at least two (2) years.”
Sali got a bill introduced in February to fund his new nonprofit organization, the “American Heritage Foundation,” through a new Idaho specialty license plate that would bear the motto “In God We Trust.” The foundation, which Sali and his wife Terry formed on Jan. 25, will work to educate the public about “foundational principles and history of the United States,” the bill says. Sali said it’ll do things like give away copies of the Constitution.
The group would get $22 from every “In God We Trust” license plate sold in Idaho, and $12 from each renewal. But Sali’s bill never came up for a committee hearing, rendering it likely dead as lawmakers push to adjourn their session next week.
Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Senate on Friday that the House-amended version of his bill is “not nearly as good of a bill as it used to be, but it still has some value.” In addition to the two-year rule for non-profits, the amended bill requires an annual accounting to the state from all organizations receiving specialty license plate fees, showing how the funds were spent.
“I think that’s of value,” Hammond said after the Senate’s overwhelming vote to approve the amended bill. “We’re collecting money for a private organization. They ought to have some history of managing their funds correctly, if we’re going to be working with them with public funding.”
Hammond said he’d still rather have seen more restrictions on new specialty plates; Idaho currently has an array, benefiting everything from the state Department of Fish and Game’s wildlife programs to a Corvette club and an appaloosa horse club.
“I really don’t believe in collecting public funds for private organizations,” said Hammond, the Senate Transportation chairman. “If it’s a general purpose for the citizens of Idaho, great – like the wildlife plate.”
He said, “I have nothing against those clubs, but I don’t think it’s a proper role of government for us to be collecting those funds.”
Idaho’s 30 specialty license plates raise $1.6 million a year for the various groups that benefit from them.
The House Transportation Committee initially voted to kill Hammond’s bill, but Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, persuaded the panel later to revive it and send it to the House’s amending order for amendments. It was amended twice, substantially changing the bill from Hammond’s original version, which would have declared that after Jan. 1, 2013, “only state and public agencies or foundations supporting the interests of state or local government may apply” for specialty plates.
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