Veteran wants to change license plate rules

The president of the Hillsborough County Veterans Council is on a mission to change who can buy specialty license plates stamped with the emblems of the four military branches.

Mike O'Dell said, until his birthday in October, he had no idea anyone -- whether or not they served in the military -- could purchase Florida tags bearing the logos of the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy.

"My wife went and surprised me and got me a Navy plate and didn't need to show any proof," he said. "It just makes no sense that you would not have to show that you were a veteran."

O'Dell, a Navy veteran, is now focused on trying to convince legislators to change the law and limit the specialty tags to only active or retired service-members.

"We have enough issues with stolen valor and to me, this just gives these people that are predators and want to do these types of things another avenue," he told FOX 13 Wednesday. "I would like to see it where we have to show...our discharge papers to prove that we're a veteran to get these plates."

Proof is required for more than two dozen other military-related tags, but the branch-specific ones are the most popular.

According to statistics from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, more than 86,000 were sold last year, with 38,339 people buying the U.S. Marines tag -- the seventh most popular plate in Florida.

The tags cost $15 and brought in about $2.6 million in 2014 for the State Homes for Veterans Trust Fund, which is helps fund improvements at nursing homes for veterans throughout Florida.

Steve Murray, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, said he has concerns a change in this law could impact that revenue stream.

"If we reduce it to a subset of the overall population, than that means less income coming in and less revenue available to make improvements to state veterans nursing homes," Murray offered.

O'Dell, however, said his plan includes a way to keep the money flowing; he's proposing creating a new plate specifically for supporters of the military branches.

"They don't have to reinvent the wheel. They don't have to make new plates. They can just have those plates stamped, 'supporter.' It's a very simple fix," he said.

O'Dell said he's been contacting state representatives from Hillsborough County and is hoping his proposal will be included in a bill next year.