SALT LAKE CITY — Two-year-old Owen Weissinger had been hospital-free for a year when his father decided congenital heart defects needed more attention.
After brainstorming, Mark Weissinger contacted his local legislators about pursuing a specialty license plate to generate funding for research or awareness campaigns for congenital heart defects. The disease affects nearly 1 percent of children born in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, sponsored SB289 during the 2015 Utah Legislature, but it was introduced late in the session and didn't come up for a vote in the House. The Senate passed the bill 21-4.
In the coming weeks, this year's version of Hinkins' bill, SB69, is expected to be introduced to state lawmakers, along with at least three other bills calling for license plates to help children with cancer, youth soccer and community building, and a law enforcement memorial support fund.
Even if these bills pass in the Legislature, they’re not guaranteed to be available anytime soon.
After the governor signs the approved legislation, the supporting groups of the designated fund must collect 500 applications and fees for the license plates to go into production.
Since 2010, the Legislature has approved six new specialty group license plates. Of those, four are currently in use — for autism awareness, humanitarian support, cancer research and the Utah Jazz.
The 2011 Choose Life Adoption Support and 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. specialty plates have not yet received enough applications and are still waiting to be produced, according to the Utah State Tax Commission.
When all 500 applications have been collected and the license plates are distributed, they can be discontinued if less than 500 people renew the plates for three consecutive years under state law.
This year, bill sponsors and other invested parties are confident the necessary applications can be gathered if the specialty plates get legislative approval.
Weissinger said the nonprofit organization Intermountain Healing Hearts has agreed to help cover production costs of the plates for congenital heart defects awareness, but Weissinger will still need to collect the 500 signatures.
SB64, sponsored by Senate Assistant Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, would help Real Salt Lake fund programs to reduce gang violence through youth involvement, train youth referees and fund other youth soccer programs.
Escamilla said she doesn’t expect the 500 application requirement to stand in the way.
“I think it will be really well-received, especially when people understand what the funds will be utilized for,” she said.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, is sponsoring HB167 to raise funding to operate and keep up the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial at the Capitol. Perry said he views the plates as a public “thank you for the ultimate sacrifice.” He sponsored similar legislation last year.
Another specialty plate proposal would fund childhood cancer research by Primary Children’s Hospital, according to a petition found on the Childhood Cancer License Plate for Utah's Facebook page.
The concept was brought to former Sen. Aaron Osmond by Krystal Hansen, who lost her son to childhood cancer. Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, is sponsoring HB97 this session.
The popularity of the specialty plates in Utah varies greatly. Some of the collegiate plates have less than 20 in use across the state, but other schools — including the University of Utah and BYU — have thousands of plates, according to data from the Utah State Tax Commission.
According to a report from March 2015, only 13 state representatives have a specialty plate on their vehicles, and none were issued to state senators.