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N.D. lawmakers to get first look at new license plate design next week

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers will get their first look next week at a proposed new license plate design that could replace the award-winning “Discover the Spirit” design that’s been in use since 1993.

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation will present its recommended design to the Legislature’s Budget Section for approval Wednesday morning.

Lawmakers last year appropriated $6.82 million to cover the cost of issuing a new general license plate for the first time in more than 20 years.

Under the approved bill, the recommended design must be presented to the Budget Section, and it can’t be publicly unveiled before then, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said Wednesday.

The new plate also can’t have raised lettering like the current embossed plate. As a result, Rough Rider Industries, which employs inmates at the North Dakota State Penitentiary to produce the plates, is procuring equipment to make digitally-printed flat plates, Anderson said.

More than 1 million license plates must be replaced with the new flat plate by June 30, 2017. The new plates will be distributed through the regular renewal process, Anderson said.

“It’ll probably be a process that takes place over a couple of years,” she said, noting the new design won’t affect specialty license plates such as the Lewis & Clark and National Guard plates.

North Dakota’s current general-issue license plate depicts a prairie scene and is referred to at the DOT as the “buffalo plate” because of the ungulate featured in the lower left corner. It received “Plate of the Year” honors for best new license plate of 1993 by the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association.

Anderson said officials have discussed replacing the current plate — believed to be the longest-running license plate in state history — for several years.

Because North Dakota allows license plates to be transferred to a different vehicle, some people have kept the same plates for a decade or longer, Anderson said. Some older plates have started to fade and lose their reflectivity and features, which can be a concern for law enforcement agencies, she said.

Eric Tanner, archivist for the ALPCA, said that considering the reflective materials used probably had only a five-year warranty, “I would say that the state is long overdue for a plate replacement program.” Many states have a five- to seven-year “re-plate” cycle of replacing all passenger vehicle plates on the road within a specific period of time, but even more have an open-ended approach, Tanner said, noting the oldest legal plates are in Delaware, dating back to 1941.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.