By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- A proposal to redesign Massachusetts license plates to include symbols and fewer letters was viewed skeptically Wednesday by lawmakers considering legislation that would create a task force to study the change.
Public safety organizations and child safety advocates have pushed for almost a decade to change the look of license plates, saying it would make it easier for people to identify the plates of cars used in a crime.
The idea stems from efforts to prevent child abductions, with proponents citing the murder of 16-year-old Molly Bish in 2000. Bish disappeared from a pond where she was a lifeguard. Her mother remembers seeing a strange car parked at the pond the day before her daughter's disappearance.
The Bish family has pushed for the license plate change for years. On Wednesday, Molly's sister Heather testified, urging lawmakers to create the task force to look at the idea. Sen. Bruce Tarr filed legislation to create the task force (S 1712).
Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) and Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn), who chair the Transportation Committee, wanted more information on scientific studies that prove symbols make plates easier to identify.
McGee said he understands many people support the idea, but said, "What research has been done? Has there been a legitimate study done that says this is absolutely the way to go? I have a lot of questions about this.
Straus said the committee would need to look at something that "rose to the level of peer review, scientific study," not just hunches that plates with symbols would work. Straus said he would like to see federal agencies have input if a task force was created.
"Everyone takes this thing quite seriously," Straus said.
No other state has changed its plates to the so-called EZ-ID plates, which include symbols like stars and diamonds in an effort to make them more recognizable. Several states have looked at the idea, including Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The Legislature passed a similar bill creating a task force in 2012, but its final passage was held up by amendments. Lawmakers wanted several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and Immigration Customs Enforcement to weigh in on the task force.