GOLD STAR FAMILY LICENSE PLATE KIT
This is a primer on how the Pennsylvania Gold Star Family License Plate Bill, HR 2498,
took root and became law. You can do it for your state too.
One of the things I've been trying to do is to increase awareness of the sacrifices our
sons and daughters are making in the military. The all volunteer military has insulated
most Americans from the difficulties of military life, especially of those serving
recently. With this in mind, I thought hundreds of GSF license plates on display, every
day, in every part of our state would be a reminder of these sacrifices. To maximize the
number of GSF license plates I tried to make the eligibility criteria as broad as
Before contacting your state legislator you should do some homework:
- Check to see if your state already has a plate similar to the one you wish to propose.
- Determine what kind of plate you want and what kinds of plates your state offers. Some
states have "organizational" plates. These usually require your organization to
gather orders and the money for the plates until you reach a minimum amount, usually a few hundred,
before the plates will be issued. This puts the burden on you to contact potential plate
recipients and do some paperwork - not desirable. I suggest you avoid
this type of plate if at all possible. Sometimes these plates can generate
money for the organization from the plate fees.
- States usually have "specialty"
plates like those for firefighters or veterans. These are issued if you meet the criteria.
They require specific legislation but this is the way to go if you can
because you avoid the minimum required by the organizational plates and
the associated paperwork. Sometimes plates can be personalized. This was not the
case in Pennsylvania since so much space on the plate is taken up by the graphics that
only 4 numeric digits are allowed and no personalization.
- Determine what your state's legislative calendar is. In other words when does a new
legislative session begin and end. Bills must clear all the legislative hurdles before the
session ends or your bill will die. You must then reintroduce it in the next session and
start from the beginning. Your legislator should be able to help you with this.
- Make some contacts with your local Veterans groups. I had been invited to speak to
several local veterans groups. While there, I asked advice about my project and tried to
get an endorsement from the group. Veterans, police and firefighters in your legislator's
district are very influential. Their support will be important. In my case everyone was
supportive and I had offers from one firefighters group to "flood the capital"
with members if necessary. But remember, you will need support from all parts of your
state not just from your legislators and these groups have counterparts all over your
state which they can reach through their newsletters.
- Most of these groups have lobbyists in your state capital. Get to know who they are,
introduce yourself and ask for their support, particularly veterans groups. As you make
more contacts create a mailing list. An e-mail list is essential since nothing else is as
cheap or fast. You will need to get these organizations to put the word out to their
members to contact their state legislators to support your bill.
- Don't be shy. After things get rolling ask for plate #1 or some other significant number
for yourself. This is customary and makes for a good photo op.
- Ask for a ceremonial bill signing with the
governor. This will help generate the necessary publicity to get the
plates out to the public. The governors publicity machine is
infinitely better than yours. The signing will be covered by the states
own publicity apparatus and press releases will go out to places you
would never have thought of. And they will be printed when they come
from the governors office rather than from you.
I first contacted my local State Representative, a State Senator would also be
appropriate, and set up an appointment to meet with him.
At that first meeting I took a note book containing the following information:
- A cover for the notebook containing my rendition
of the gold star rimmed in dark blue with my contact information.
- A cover letter stating the purpose of my visit.
- A list of recent causalities from my state, printed out with the city, name, rank and date of death, separated by Afghanistan and Iraq. This listing can be found at http://icasualties.org/oef/ByState.aspx for Afghanistan and http://www.icasualties.org/oif/Details.aspx for Iraq. Be sure to set your state in the filter section at the bottom of the page for Iraq.
- A summary of my research taken from the internet. All the states that had a Gold Star related plate were outlined, followed by my proposal that family members who are eligible to wear the Gold Star Lapel Button be eligible for the GSF
license plate. I feel this is especially important because it will allow
the largest number of plates. The more folks that qualify, the more
plates out there reminding the public of those that have sacrificed. I
also didn't restrict the plate to the current conflicts or to death in
combat. Nearly everyone in our military undertakes the risk and they are
- The official Application for the Gold Star Lapel Button, DD Form 3, Feb 2000 where
eligible family members are defined.
- A list of all the available Pennsylvania Special Organizational (SO) License Plates (which, in Pennsylvania, are different than "specialty plates"). In
Pennsylvania, SO plates don't require new legislation. Since Gold Star Families is not an organization, I felt we had to go to the extra effort to get this specialty plate.
- A mock up of the proposed license plate. Go to your DOT web site and copy an image of your state's license plate to your computer then edit it.
- Also included in the proposal was as much information from other
states as I could glean from the internet. Just go to the different
state sites and look for Gold Star plates then print off the
information. Remember, the more work you do for the Representative or
Senator the less work they will have to do to make it happen for you. To
get you started, see the
GSF Plate Status Table.
A GSF License Plate is a non-controversial bill, but since it is almost sure to pass, legislators who have pet issues that don't draw enough support to pass on their own may try to amend your bill to add their pet issue. This will require a quick e-mail blast to your list to quash this amendment.
Some time after my initial meeting at my Representative's local office, he invited me, other gold star mothers and interested veterans groups to a meeting in our state capital. There I met with the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and his aide. This aide is an essential contact since he will actually write the bill. Get to know him and make sure the bill language doesn't get off track. It gets harder to change things once the bill has been introduced.
The process is agonizingly slow, about 9 months for me. Find the place on your state's web site where you can track the progress of bills and keep checking on it. Don't pester your legislator, but an occasional call when things aren't moving will let him know you haven't forgotten about it. Remember though, nothing happens if the legislature is not in session. Most of your contacts will be with his staff. Learn their names and jobs. Collect business cards like crazy because you'll never remember all those details.
In my case the bill went to the House first, since it was introduced by my
Representative, then to the Senate. Then on to the governor for his signature after which it becomes law.
The law that eventually passed was quite vague. Even after it becomes law there are plenty of chance for mischief at the Dept of Transportation. Find a contact in the Dept of Transportation and make sure they actually produce what you want. Providing them with your mock up makes life easier for them.
In my case PennDOT was extremely responsive. They adopted my mock up almost exactly, making only a few changes for readability which I agreed were an improvement. They also waived the usual 60 day delay before the law became effective and jumped right on my project, producing plate GSF 0001 for me. An Assistant Secretary of PennDOT hand delivered it (over 2 hours each way) only a few days after the governor signed the bill. I was impressed and will now have to rethink all those stereotypes we all have of the DOT.
My job was not over at this point however. It's time to thank all those that helped you. You might have another project in the future and these folks might again be helpful. They may also need your help for one of their projects.
My original goal was public awareness so I have been trying to get the governor to do a ceremonial public signing of the bill. In addition it's time to go back to your veteran and other contacts and ask them to publicize the new law and encourage their members that qualify, to apply for the plate. Issue a press release to your local newspapers and send copies to all the Gold Star moms you know and ask them to copy the press release and send it to their local papers. I might be able to help you with the names of AGSM members in your state.
I have included links to my documents in the list above so you can down load them and edit them for your own use. Depending on your browser, either right or left click on the links then select a "save" or "save link as" option. Be sure to notice and remember where you are saving them so you can find them later.
Don't delay on this project because I have some other "awareness" projects in
the works and you wouldn't want to fall behind now, would you?
Feel free to if you have any questions.
President, Dept of PA, AGSM
2nd Vice President, AGSM