March 31, 2006

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s time for Florida to authorize a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag to honor the heritage of participants in the Civil War, a Sons of Confederate Veterans organization said Friday.

The proposed plate would feature the rebel flag centered between black numerals with "Florida" in red above and "Confederate Heritage" in red along the bottom.

"It is not racist to promote a common heritage," said H.K. Edgerton, former NAACP president in Asheville, N.C., who led the group in a rousing version of "Dixie" before introducing the proposal. "There will be those uninformed individuals who will attempt to categorize this plate in unflattering terms."

The SCV proposal, however, is unlikely to get far with Florida lawmakers who are already halfway through the 2006 session.

"If it comes up here for a vote it’s not something I’m going to support," said state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, a black Republican from Jacksonville. "I think we have greater issues."

Florida has authorized 106 specialty license plates since its first one memorializing the Challenger shuttle that exploded in January 1986 on takeoff, killing seven astronauts.

"I’m not going to sign up," said Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been uncomfortable with the Confederate flag as a symbol. In 2001 he ordered one taken down at the Capitol, where it had flown for more than two decades.

"We have enough license plates," Bush said.

Florida, like much of the South, continues to struggle with parts of its history resulting from the war between the states between 1861-1865.

In recent years, South Carolina removed a rebel flag from atop its Capitol, Georgia removed the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag and the University of Mississippi retired Col. Rebel at its on-field mascot.

However, several southern states do offer license tags observing the Confederacy heritage.

In South Carolina, the tags are sold only to SCV members at $30 above the regular $24 registration and the group keeps profits from the sales under a law that took effect a year ago without the signature of Gov. Mark Sanford.

Virginia, which offers 180 specialty tags, began selling a "Sons of Confederate Veterans" plate in 2002.

The group seeking the plate in Florida must hire an independent organization to complete 30,000 surveys of vehicle owners in the state to comply with a requirement to gauge consumer interest. They are also required to pay an application fee of $60,000 to the Division of Motor Vehicles and provide long-term marketing plans before production could begin on the proposed plate.

"There are tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people who would be proud to have this license plate on their vehicles," said Robert Hurst, spokesman for the group. "We feel that those people deserve the opportunity to buy that flag, to buy that tag and have it on their vehicles."

Proceeds from plate sales would be used to pay for the restoration of the original Confederate flags housed in the Museum of Florida History as well as grave locations and markers of Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the state.

The proposal’s sponsors said they would not have a problem finding a sponsor in the Legislature for their idea.

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