Putting a # on your license plate would help the homeless under Riverside lawmaker’s bill
By Shane Newell
#1MOM, 1LOVE#LA, #Y0L0 — these could become license plates of the future if a state bill to fund homeless services passes.
A bill by State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, is moving forward that would allow drivers to place a hashtag on a special license plate and have the price tag help fund mental health and substance abuse treatment for California’s homeless.
As is done with hastags in social media posts, motorists could honor or celebrate whoever or whatever they’d like on their vehicle, from a beloved baseball team to a loved one to a favorite cause.
Roth credited his staff with helping create the concept.
“I’m so old that I didn’t know what a hashtag was until my staff told me about it,” Roth said by phone Monday, June 25.
There have been many attempts to create specialized plates, but none have tried using the hashtag, which also can be the symbol for a number, Roth’s staff said. Incorporating it lets drivers get creative while helping a cause.
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The bill has caught on with statewide organizations and Southern California groups.
“It’s innovative,” said Janice Penner, executive director of the Riverside Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit group that manages and promotes the city’s downtown area, where homeless often congregate.
“It’s a way that people can put their money where their mouth is,” she said.
In Riverside, a city that is looking to help its homeless by providing more housing, getting extra dollars for support services would be key to helping solve homelessness.
“If you don’t provide the services, you are basically isolating them,” Penner said. “You are putting them in an apartment but not giving them the tools to deal with their issues.”
The bill, introduced in February, made it out of the state Assembly’s transportation committee on Monday, June 25, and is headed to the appropriations committee.
If passed, the bill would expand the number of special interest license plates offered by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Drivers already can choose from 14 special license-plate images such as a whale tail, firefighter or American flag with the proceeds benefiting certain agencies and nonprofit groups.
But the special plates aren’t free.
Many have an initial cost between $50 and $103 and yearly renewal fees, unlike the standard white plates with blue letters and numbers that often have no cost, DMV spokesman Jaime Garza said.
Roth’s bill does not include an estimated cost for a hashtag plate.
It’s typical for most of the initial special plate costs to benefit the cause after a DMV fee has been taken out, Garza said. Renewal charges go directly to the organizations.
Mohammed Aly, an Orange County homeless advocate, praised the concept behind the bill.
“I’m heartened by the fact that people are willing to extend their compassion towards people that desperately need it and that policymakers are identifying new ways of helping them,” he said.
Debra Carlton, senior vice president of public affairs at the Sacramento-based California Apartment Association, also backs Roth’s plan to help the homeless, including veterans on the streets.
“It’s very important and valuable that we give to them as well,” she said.