Kansas lawmakers consider license plates for military service, cancer research, educators, sorority

Rep. Barbara Ballard praised the creation of a new license plate as an educational tool for Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer. (September 2020 photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

New, distinctive Kansas license plates could raise awareness, and in some cases money, for military service veterans, cancer research, educators and a historically Black sorority.

The Kansas House Transportation Committee heard testimony Tuesday for four bills that would allow for the production of the distinctive Kansas license plates.

One House bill would provide license plates for current and veteran members who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Individuals eligible for the license plates would be exempt from a $500 issuance fee for the distinctive plate.

“Many veterans, like my dad, feel forgotten by our government,” said Rep. Aaron Coleman, D-Kansas City, in testimony during the hearing. “These distinctive plates are a great way to show respect and let our veterans know that we haven’t forgotten about them.”

A similar version of the bill went through the House Veterans Committee in 2019 and was passed to the Senate, but failed.

A second bill would create distinctive license plates in honor of Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer, an organization that raises awareness and research funds for studies of types of childhood cancers. 

Anyone would be able to apply for a Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer license plate and would need to pay an additional annual fee, which will be established by the organization, of anywhere between $25-100. 

Braden’s Hope founder Deliece Hofen said during the hearing the license plates would support ongoing childhood cancer research and would raise an estimated $12,500 each year for research and potential therapies. Hofen founded the organization after her son, Braden, was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma when he was 3 years old.

“I see this as not just being something to honor your son or to acknowledge your family but as an education tool out there for other people to realize,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence. “Also, if they know your story, they can have hope.”

Kansas Educators Support Foundation founder Erica Shook gave testimony for a bill that would establish a Proud Educator distinctive license plate and provide funds to the Kansas Educator Support Fund. The organization was founded in 2019 and aims to address educator shortages, job satisfaction and resources available for Kansas educators.

The proceeds from the license plates will fund twice-a-year grants to first-year teachers in Kansas.

“One challenge for first-year teachers is simply preparing one’s first classroom for students with little to no budget for supplies and no hope of a full paycheck for a month or two after school begins,” Shook said. “Knowing this, I set out to find a way to alleviate any part of this stress in whatever manner I could.”

The amount of money disbursed in the grants will be based upon how many Proud Educator license plates are sold, Shook said. Rep. Les Mason, R-McPherson, worked with Shook to create a bill for a Proud Educator license plate twice in the past, and urged the committee to recommend the new bill for passage in written testimony.

Current and former members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority — an international service organization founded at Howard University in 1908 and the oldest Greek-letter organization established by Black college-educated women — provided testimony in Tuesday’s meeting in support of a distinctive Alpha Kappa Alpha Kansas license plate.

Representatives from the sorority urged the committee to make Kansas one of more than 25 states that have Alpha Kappa Alpha license plates.

“It is our hope that Kansas will join in with these other states and allow members of this well-established organization to purchase this plate and show their strong pride in their organization, support of its programs and their pride as citizens of the great state of Kansas,” said Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita.

There are nine Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters in Kansas and more than 1,500 members of the sorority, Finney said.

“I was born and raised in North Carolina where we are the first in flight,” said Dorothy Hines, a member of the sorority and an assistant professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies and the Department of Education at the University of Kansas. “Today, the House Transportation Committee has the opportunity to be among the first 20 states in the nation who have passed legislation for an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated license plate.”

Individuals who purchase the license plate would pay between $25-100 in royalties to Alpha Kappa Alpha each year.