Florida highway agency may be headed to court over license plates

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauDecember 5, 2012 

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles may be on the road to court after failed attempts Tuesday to settle a dispute over who will make and distribute the state's new license tags.

County tax collectors and other groups say Florida is breaking the law as it moves to pay private companies for services that have for decades been done by state workers. The tax collectors' protest could go before an administrative law judge in January.

In a meeting closed to the public, tax collectors asked the state highway agency to withdraw its request for bids from private companies and create a committee to study whether tax collectors or private businesses are best positioned to improve cost savings and customer service.

The department politely shut down both ideas, said Ken van Assenderp, an attorney for the tax collectors.

"We're not saying that we're not open to other solutions," van Assenderp said. "But don't try to get into ways of changing things without getting us involved from the beginning, and without having an eye toward service."

The other two groups that have filed protests are Avery Dennison, a labeling and packaging company that provides materials for plate manufacturers, and PRIDE, a St. Petersburg-based nonprofit company that uses inmate labor to make tags.

Both say the state's bidding requirements eliminate them--and almost every other company-- from applying for $31.4 million in contracts to make the tags and to distribute online and mail orders.

They also take issue with the state's request that potential vendors be immediately ready to make plates with flat -- rather than raised -- characters. Florida wants to give its license plates a makeover, and flat plates are generally believed to be more legible by toll and red light cameras.

Avery Dennison and PRIDE do not have the technology to make the flat plates, and "it would not be feasible to obtain all of the equipment necessary," says the PRIDE complaint.

PRIDE could go out of business if the state follows through with its proposals, it said.

Highway safety officials say this isn't an attempt to put anyone out of work, but to learn about possible cost savings for taxpayers.

"At least four prospective vendors who expressed interest in (working with the state) did not protest," said department spokeswoman Courtney Heidelberg.

State officials will not make any decisions until after they meet with Avery Dennison Wednesday, Heidelberg added.

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