Tuesday, August 11, 2009

License plates honor vets of current wars

Pat Merville will soon have a new way to remember her son, Christopher Merville, who died in Iraq in 2004.

Soon after his death, his mother began working to get a law passed that would establish special license plates for families of New Mexico service members killed in action.

The law, which became effective July 1, provides for two free plates for spouses and parents of deceased service members, says Alan Martinez of New Mexico's Veterans Service.

The New Mexico law is one of several enacted recently to honor troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Virginia, Alabama and Louisiana have set plans in motion to issue plates honoring those veterans. In most cases, the plates' additional cost is being picked up by state taxpayers.

Merville, president of New Mexico's Gold Star Mothers chapter in Albuquerque says the down economy was a potential obstacle in getting the bill passed, "but local organizations pushing for it really made a difference."

S.U. Mahesh, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division, says the department will issue 300 plates initially, at a state cost of about $1,500.

Ten other states have plates honoring troops from those war, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

Capt. Paul Rickert of the Minnesota National Guard, who served in Iraq and has "Support Our Troops" tags, says such plates "mean a great deal" to veterans.

• In Virginia, a bill establishing plates for veterans of Afghanistan became law on July 1, says Republican Delegate Rob Bell, the bill's sponsor. The plates will be available within nine months, says Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Melanie Stokes. Plates for Iraq veterans have been available since Jan. 30 in Virginia, Stokes said. The additional $25 fee usually charged for specialty plates is waived for veterans.

• In Alabama, Republican Gov. Bob Riley unveiled designs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans plates July 21.

Orders for the plates have been accepted since Aug. 1, says Carla Snellgrove of the Department of Revenue. The tags carry just the normal registration fee of $23, plus a one-time $3 fee the year the plate is issued.

• Louisiana authorized plates for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans in 2008, and plates will be issued within six months, says Michelle Rayburn of Louisiana's Office of Motor Vehicles. They will carry no specialty plate fees.

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