ST. GEORGE — A bill seeking to introduce a new Utah license plate supporting organ donation received unanimous approval from the House Transportation Committee earlier this week.
Special License Plate Amendments, designated as HB 272 in the 2021 Legislature, would create a new support special group license plate option for Utah drivers.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, told St. George News that the proposed “Donate Life” license plate seeks to support nonprofit organizations dedicated to connecting, registering and advocating for organ donors and donor families.
If HB 272, which Ray called “a great community service bill,” becomes law, Utah drivers interested in obtaining the license plate would make a $25 annual contribution plus the $17 special plate fee and $4 for postage and handling.
Revenue from the “Donate Life” license plate would be deposited into the state’s existing Organ Donation Contribution Fund. The Utah Department of Health would then be authorized to distribute the proceeds to any qualifying organization that submits an application. The bill also allows the department to use money in the account to cover the costs, estimated at $1,100 annually, of administering the fund and issuing or reordering the license plate and accompanying decals.
“Donate Life” was inspired by the late Allyson Gamble, executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board and a familiar face among legislators. Gamble was a two-time heart transplant recipient who was honored for her resilience and dedication to her work at the Capitol during Gov. Gary Herbert’s 2013 State of the State address. She died of a stroke on Dec. 5, 2020, at age 52.
Numerous states, including Arizona and Colorado, currently offer a specialty license plate promoting organ donation. The idea for a Utah license plate that champions the cause was initially conceived as an Eagle Scout project by Catcher McCardell, a young man who lives in Gamble’s neighborhood. He contacted Ray ahead of the 2021 legislative session, who agreed to draft and sponsor the bill.
Ray said that Gamble was aware of and supported the project, and following her sudden death, he is dedicated to seeing it through.
“Everyone up here loved Allyson and worked well with her and certainly misses her, so I think this will have a great deal of support in both the House and the Senate,” he said.
Accompanied by McCardell, Ray brought the bill before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday. While presenting a mockup of the proposed plate, which McCardell designed himself, Ray praised the teenager’s initiative and commitment to the project.
“He had it worked out and ready to go. All I had to do was get it drafted,” he said. “He’s the workhorse and I’m the show horse in this one.”
HB 272 passed with a favorable recommendation. The final vote tally was 11-0-1.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, told St. George News that he has no concerns about approving HB 272 because it won’t cost the state anything in the long run; rather, it will generate revenue, a portion of which will be donated to relevant organizations.
“There’s no reason not to support it,” he added.
Rep. Travis M. Seegmiller, R-St. George, described organ donation as “a truly wonderful cause.”
“Given the long list of special group license plates that already exist in Utah law, I can’t see any reason why this new special category should be excluded,” he said. “So I am leaning towards voting in favor of HB 272, with the caveat that I’ll make my final decision about how I will vote after I participate in the debate on the House floor.”
State law requires that a minimum of 500 completed applications with all fees paid be submitted by interested citizens before the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles may issue a new special license plate, as well as either a private donation or legislative appropriation to cover the $7,500 startup expense.
Once 500 or more applications and any necessary fees have been submitted by a participating organization, the Division of Motor Vehicles must begin issuing the new license plate within six months.
According to the fiscal note, enactment of HB 272 could increase restricted revenue to the Organ Donation Contribution Fund by $12,500 on an ongoing basis.
DonorConnect, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recovery and transplantation of organs and tissues in Utah and surrounding areas, has stepped up to begin collecting applications if HB 272 passes. Public education and public relations manager Dixie Madsen told St. George News that DonorConnect, which also manages the Utah Donor Registry, will help market the license plate as well.
“I don’t see any barriers for it at all passing the legislature,” Madsen said, “and then when it’s passed, I am confident that we will be able to get the 500 applications required to make it actually happen. We’re just really excited about the license plate and really appreciate Catcher and his efforts to make this a reality.”
Nationwide, more patients are receiving donated organs than ever before. Despite the pandemic, the United Network for Organ Sharing reported a 6% percent increase in organ donation from deceased donors nationwide in 2020.
Intermountain Healthcare performed a record 222 abdominal organ transplants on adult patients in 2020. St. George Regional Hospital transplanted 34 different organs from 11 donors.
According to Intermountain Healthcare, there are currently more than 108,000 people on organ transplant waiting lists across the United States. In Utah, 773 people are waiting for an organ. Kidneys are in the greatest demand.
“The staggering statistic is the amount of people that die waiting for organs,” said Mike Wood, RN, operations director for Intermountain Healthcare Critical Care South. “There’s obviously a great need everywhere. … We have a lot less organ donors than we have needs.”
While living donation is an option, many people or their surviving loved ones opt to give the gift of life following a tragic loss. Each deceased donor has the potential to save or drastically improve up to eight lives, Wood said.
Utah currently issues three standard license plates and more than 40 special license plates. Support special group license plates generate funds for specific organizations and champion causes such as adoption, autism awareness, bicycle safety, cancer research, clean air and public education.
HB 272 will next move to the Utah House floor for its third reading.
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Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.
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