Kansas senator wants accountability for funds from distinctive license plates

By: - March 19, 2021 11:46 am

Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, initiated conversation on a bill that would require a report on where sponsoring organization spent funds raised by distinctive license plates. He said accountability was important if they were going to endorse these organizations. (Sept. 22, 2020, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Measures that would allow the production of distinctive Kansas license plates to raise awareness and money have sparked conversation over where funds raised are spent.

The license plates — ranging from cancer research to educators to a Black sorority — would, in some cases, raise money for an organization’s fund. Legislators on the Senate Transportation Committee are now questioning how to ensure accountability over spending the money raised through special fees for distinctive license plates.

Senate Bill 278 would address this issue by requiring the organizations sponsoring these plates to submit a report by May 1 of each year to both the House and Senate transportation panel and the state treasurer, among others. The report would detail the amount of money received from the plate and list expenditures that money was spent on in the prior year.

“It’s a good idea for us to have that information if we’re going to, in essence, appear to endorse a charitable cause that wants to raise funds with a distinctive license plate,” said Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan. “I think we ought to at least provide some degree of accountability for that.”

Hawk said he requested the bill be introduced to reinitiate conversation this session following discussion in previous years on the subject. In the past, some legislators have expressed concerns about the money going toward elections, for example, said Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita.

Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, asked if these organizations were already required to submit such information under nonprofit guidelines. While panel members were unsure, Hawk expressed a desire to ensure the information was accessible to the state.

The bill, which had no testimony from stakeholders, is one of several distinctive license plate measures being considered in the House and Senate transportation committees. 

House Bill 2194, already heard in the House committee, and Senate Bill 285, yet to be heard, both would allow a new, distinctive license plate for Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority — an international services organization founded in 1908 and the oldest Greek-letter organization established by Black college-educated women.

There are nine Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters in Kansas currently and more than 1,500 members of the sorority. It serves a membership of 300,000 women in 1,024 chapters worldwide.

“We are excited about the possibility of having our own Alpha Kappa Alpha license plate in the state of Kansas,” said Harriett McCallop Herbert, a member of the sorority. “We will proudly our love for our sorority and by purchasing the license plate.”

Representatives from the sorority urged House legislators during the February hearing to join with more than 25 states that already have these license plates. Per state law, these license plates would not be issued until there is an initial assurance of 500 plates and the sponsoring organization pays up to $20,000 for the initial design costs.

All logo use royalty payments would eventually be credited to the Alpha Kappa Alpha royalty fund every month.

There is also a multiyear effort within the Statehouse to create the proud educator license plate. House Bill 2169 would provide for these distinctive plates through the Kansas Educators Support Foundation with a reduced initial issuance of 250, as opposed to the 500 usually required in statute.

Rep. Richard Proehl, a Parsons Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said similar bills were filed the past two years and fell short because of “unforeseen circumstances.”

Erica Shook, chairwoman of the Kansas Educators Support Foundation, said 100% of proceeds would go toward the issuance of biannual grants to first-year teachers as they enter their first classroom. 

“First-year teachers have to face many challenges and can become overwhelmed very quickly,” Shook said. “In fact, about 30% leave the profession after their first year and 40%-50% leave within five years. Knowing this, I set out to find a way to alleviate any part of this stress in whatever manner I could.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.