Staff Columnist

'Blackout' best thing to come out of Legislature

Gov. Kim Reynolds (from left) and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg talk after unveiling three final designs for Iowa standard license plates at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds (from left) and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg talk after unveiling three final designs for Iowa standard license plates at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowans looking for something positive to say about the latest legislative session need look no further than approval of a very plain license plate.

Tucked into Senate File 638, a late session appropriation and “other stuff” bill signed by Gov. Kim Rey-nolds last Wednesday, was language to create a “blackout” Iowa vehicle license plate design.

“A blackout plate’s background shall be black, and the plate’s letters and numbers shall be white,” explains new language inserted into Iowa Code Section 321.

The design will join several others — primarily collegiate, advocacy and military — available through the Iowa Department of Transportation for additional initial and yearly fees. (These fees are in addition to those required for personalization.) The new “blackout” plate will specifically serve as an alternate of the current plate for Dordt College, a religious school in Sioux Center, which also features the “blackout” design and a logo and other language that refers to the school.

In the wake of a less-than-enthusiastic reception for new Iowa plate designs rolled out by the Reynolds administration in 2017, the Dordt College plates have become popular — and that newfound popularity has resulted in some Iowans breaking the law by purchasing the specialty plates and using frames or other mechanisms to hide references to the college.

Iowa Code states that “it is unlawful for the owner of a vehicle to place any frame around or over the registration plate which does not permit full view of all numerals and letters printed on the registration plate.” The Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted this directive to include all aspects of the plate, including county name or, in the case of collegiate plates, the name of the college.

The prohibition is, unfortunately, something I discovered earlier this year as I joined thousands of other Iowans considering the aesthetics of a Dordt College license plate. Instead of risking a ticket for unlawfully covering the plate, I resigned myself and sadly watched as basic Iowa plates were placed on my new vehicle, and I continue to cringe each time I catch sight of them.

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According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, the situation may come to an end in July, when the agency anticipates making the new “blackout” plate design available to the public. My guess is that there will be at least two vehicles from our household alone sporting the plain plate design.

If you were wondering, as I was, who in the Legislature began the discussion of a “blackout” plate, I believe credit goes to Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center. Shortly after the session began, Edler introduced Senate File 88, which called for the creation of such a license plate and amended language related to tinting of vehicle windows. The bill was taken up by the Transportation Committee, but didn’t advance beyond that point. Although lobbyists for the Iowa State Troopers Association declared their opposition to the successor bill, it’s unclear if the troopers were concerned about yet another new specialty plate or changes to window tinting. My guess is it was the latter, given that the state already has dozens of different plates available. What’s one more?

And, yes, I realize a license plate isn’t even in the ballpark with needed Medicaid oversight or allowing Iowans to vote on automatic restoration of voting rights for felons. It doesn’t erase unnecessary changes to local control or workers’ rights, or negate the vindictive changes to health care targeting transgender Iowans. It isn’t adequate education, water quality or behavioral health funding.

Still, it’s a small victory of sorts. And, when dealing with this Legislature, we should celebrate what we can, when we can.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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