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Veterans Will Lose Plates Honoring Service If They Have Electric Cars; Some Lawmakers Looking To Change That

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some veterans are getting snubbed in Illinois.

An Illinois Air National Guard veteran reached out to the CBS 2 Morning Insiders after the state told him he can't keep the license plate that honors his service. CBS 2's Tim McNicholas on Wednesday explained why.

Michael Marzano is a Cary native who earned an air medal for his time in Afghanistan. He lives a life surrounded by accolades and mementos from his eight years with the Illinois Air National Guard.

The license plate honoring his service is important to him too.

"I thought it was a very nice recognition of that service and I was very proud to be able to put that on my vehicle," Marzano said.

But soon, that license plate will be nothing more than another memento. That is because Marzano drives an electric car.

Thanks to a new state law, electric cars can no longer have specialty plates – like Blackhawks or Cubs plates, or even veteran plates.

"We take pride in our service and in our time in the military and what we've done and what we did, and you know, that was kind of our way of signifying it," Marzano said.

The rule is one consequence of a sweeping change to electric vehicle registrations. Drivers used to have an option – pay $17.50 a year to register EL plates for electric cars, or pay extra for vanity or specialty plates.

Now, all electric car owners have to pay $251 for registration and have a generic electric vehicle plate. There are no more specialty plates at all for electric cars, even those honoring the military.

"We all know Illinois has an issue with the deficit and things like that, but you know, maybe the quick action isn't always the right action," Marzano said.

It's all part of a $45 billion plan to rebuild Illinois roads – spearheaded by former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to bribery charges last month.

Because he is a veteran, Marzano got his vanity plates at a discount. But once those plates expire, he will have to pay the same amount as every other electric vehicle owner, $251 dollars, for the generic 'EL' plates.

Marzano does not mind paying the extra money to the state, but he wonders why they are taking away his plates.

"I think it was just overlooked," said State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora).

Kifowit is a Marine Corps veteran who is working on a bill that would allow vanity and specialty plates for all electric cars.

"People's vehicles, their cars are their personality, and that as a state need to recognize that and acknowledge that with the personalized and vanity plates on electric cars too," she said.

Some specialty plates benefit greater causes. Proceeds from Marine Corps plates, for example, go to a scholarship fund for veterans and their families.

Police Memorial plates help pay tuition for the children of police officers killed on the job.

"If we're not allowing those to transfer as well, then those donations could diminish or be impacted significantly," Kifowit said.

"It's very upsetting," Marzano said. "I'm very proud of my service."

And he can only show that pride on his plate until November, when his current plates expire.

According to the state, there is an exception to the new law for disabled veterans. If drivers have specialty plates signifying that they are disabled veterans, they can keep those plates on their electric cars.

CBS 2 reached out to the Illinois Secretary of State's office, and they said they are simply following the law.

There are a couple of proposals working through Springfield to allow vets to keep their plates. We'll keep you posted.

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