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Group pitches license plates with symbols as way to fight crime

Says they would help solve crimes

Displaying photos of missing children, supporters of a bill to redesign Massachusetts license plates told lawmakers yesterday that plates with symbols like stars, hearts, circles, and diamonds are more easily identifiable and would help law enforcement to apprehend criminals.

At a Transportation Committee hearing, Gary Richard, representing the nonprofit organization EZ-ID, said the string of six random numbers and letters on most license plates is more difficult to recall than the proposed five-character plates that feature a symbol mixed in with the letters and numbers.

Richard told the panel that children learn to recognize symbols before they learn to read, and that studies show children as young as 2 1/2 can remember a symbol a week after seeing it. In addition, he said, both children and adults have trouble recalling strings of random numbers and letters.

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The idea of revamping license plates has drawn significant interest from child welfare groups and members of law enforcement in other states, Richard said. Noting that Massachusetts was the first state to issue license plates (in 1903), he said his group would like to launch the redesign effort here. An inventor and semiconductor industry distributor from Danvers, he said his push to create the plate was driven not by commercial interest but by his interest in protecting children against abduction.

The legislation has been dubbed Molly’s Bill, for Molly Bish, a Warren teenager who was abducted and slain in 2000. EZ-ID officials posted photographs of a number of abducted Massachusetts children at the hearing and said the legislation would make it easier for witnesses to remember the license plates used by vehicles involved in crimes.

Under the legislation, the new mandatory system of plates would be phased in over five years and would apply only to general-issue plates, not to specialty or vanity plates.

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Also yesterday, with the wave of baby boomers turning to local councils on aging for assistance, Representative Sarah Peake, Democrat of Provincetown, proposed creating a special boomer license plate and to devote the revenues for a special fund to financing council operations.

“Full disclosure, I’m smack dab in the middle of it,’’ Peake told members of the Transportation Committee, referring to the generation of individuals born between 1946 and 1964.

Peake said baby boomers are putting pressure on the services offered by councils on aging, forcing a need to generate additional revenue.

Peake’s bill, cosponsored by Representative Cleon Turner, Democrat of Dennis, directs the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue a Baby Boomer Generation plate, with the plate’s design selected after a contest judged by a panel appointed by the state elder affairs secretary. The plate would come with a fee of at least $30 over the regular registration fee. The bill calls for funds from plate sales to be awarded to councils on aging in proportion to the number of plates registered within each council’s jurisdiction.