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Mountain lion license plate

This mock-up of the state's mountain lion conservation license plate shows the first name of the state senator responsible for the plates: Ernie Chambers.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers used to filibuster bills that would create specialty license plates.

He didn't like the idea of a mishmash of specialty plates, believing if the Legislature opened the door to one or two, the mishmash would follow. 

That was until he introduced a plate for mountain lion conservation in 2015, and the bill passed and it became the most popular of Nebraska's specialty plates. 

And the mishmash did follow, with the Legislature creating Choose Life and Native history plates, adding to an already approved military gold star family plate. And other requests have been trickling in.

Tuesday, the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard proposals for wildlife conservation plates, military honor and support our troops plates, prostate cancer awareness, and spay and neuter awareness plates, and a license plate for ornate box turtle conservation. 

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh proposed the turtle plate (LB691). 

Last year, Cavanaugh said, the ornate box turtle was chosen as the state reptile, and the bill would direct funds raised to be used for a turtle habitat under the direction of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The ornate box turtle is one of two turtle species native to Nebraska, and it is near threatened, she said.

"And preserving its habitat is sure to benefit many other aquatic species," Cavanaugh said. 

Michael O'Hara, lobbyist for the Nebraska Sierra Club, said that in the areas Game and Parks manages, kids are likely to run into an ornate box turtle, which can live for more than three decades. 

Kids will go home and talk about the turtles, then every time they see that plate, they will get another positive experience, he said.

"So it's going to have a genuine tourism impact," O'Hara said. 

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango introduced a bill (LB128) that would create three additional license plates known as wildlife conservation plates, featuring sandhill cranes, big horn sheep and cutthroat trout. 

The money collected for those specialty plates would follow the same guidelines as the mountain lion conservation plates, from which Game and Parks receives $30 for each message plate and $5 for each alpha-numeric plate, he said. That money goes into the commission's education fund relating to wildlife conservation practices. 

The mountain lion plates have generated more than $225,000 for the commission, Hughes said. 

Game and Parks Deputy Director Tim McCoy said the funds are used for education, including in schools and in parks. 

The commission also has done work recently in park areas, such as Wildcat Hills, Schramm State Park, Ponca State Park and at Lake McConaughy, where it continues to expand programming, he said. 

"And it's amazing the response we see from the general public in our park system, of their curiosity about Nebraska and Nebraska's wildlife and conservation of our natural resources," McCoy said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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