State lawmaker Kelly Chambers and her husband, Jeff, make wine from their vineyard in Washington’s Lake Chelan American Viticultural Area.
For the third time in four years, Chambers, who represents Puyallup in the state House of Representatives, passed a hurdle in her bid to create a Washington wine special license plate and help fund state tourism efforts. The state’s wine industry, the second-largest in the nation, has an annual in-state economic impact of more than $8 billion.
House Bill 1530 was passed Saturday by a wide margin — 84 to 11 — and moves onto the state Senate. This time, there figures to be more attention paid to the wine license plate bill. The Washington State Wine Commission assisted with a social media campaign that led to more than 4,000 electronic signatures and 600 comments in support of Chambers’s push.
“It gives a really good sense for the enthusiasm for a plate like this,” Chambers said during the bill’s public hearing on Feb. 4.
Just as it did in 2019 and 2020, the House approved the bill with bipartisan support, but there have been critics of the idea to create a Washington wine license plate. During Saturday’s vote, House Democrats accounted for all but one of the nays.
Proceeds from the license plate sales are earmarked for The State of Washington Tourism, formerly the Washington Tourism Alliance.
“While the plate honors the renowned Washington wine industry,” said Chambers, co-owner of Lomcevak Cellars near Manson, “this is really about tourism and supporting the small mom-and-pop business, hospitality, restaurants and tourism all around the state.
“This benefits every district in the state,” Chambers added. “It’s important to note that prior to covid, Washington ranked 48th in its tourism marketing, so there’s a lot of work to do to revitalize the businesses in our state.”
The deadline is Friday, March 4 for the Senate to pass HB 1530 and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee. News of the establishment of the special license plate would be a something to toast throughout March, which is Taste Washington Wine Month.
Chambers predicts WA Wine plate will rank No. 3
A number of wineries — large and small, family-owned and corporate — donated prizes to those Washington state residents who put their names to the online petition. The list of supporting wineries included Arbor Crest Wine Cellars in Spokane, Chateau Ste. Michelle and DeLille Cellars in Woodinville and Fortuity Cellars near Yakima.
“I want to point out that Oregon has a wine country license plate, and by my estimate, if Washington sells as many plates as Oregon, and Washington is twice the size of the industry as Oregon, it would be ranked as the No. 3 plate in the state – behind WSU and the Seahawks,” Chambers, a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, testified.
In 2011, the Oregon Legislature authorized the first wine-themed license plate in the country, and more than 6,000 were sold in the first year.
If House Bill 1530 becomes law, it creates a special Washington wine industry license plate and establishes fees of $40 for an original, $30 for a renewed plate. It would be the state’s 43rd special license plate, and the act would take effect Nov. 1, 2022.
In 2007, the Washington State University Alumni Association began overseeing the school’s specialty license plate program, which has grown beyond 23,000 plates. With $28 from each renewal, that means more than $644,000 are generated each year for student scholarships. By 2020, more than $7.3 million had gone to the school’s students.
While Chambers is the prime sponsor, others to testify on behalf of HB 1530 were Josh McDonald of the Washington Wine Institute; Michael Novakovich, who represented The State of Washington Tourism; and Kathryn Hedrick, a lobbyist for Washington State Destination Marketing Organization.
McDonald testified, “We have for years seen Oregon residents show pride in their wine industry by purchasing an Oregon Wine Country license plate, and we’re excited that with this bill we can do the same here in Washington state.”
Novakovich, also CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, used a virtual backdrop of Columbia Point and the Columbia River during his testimony.
“We thank the prime sponsor of this bill, Rep. Chambers, for recognizing the importance of how Washington wine and the tourism industry are connected to not only promote our world-class wines, but bring tourists to our regions, who stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop our Main Street, and take in our attractions,” Novakovich said. “All of this economic activity aids in the success of small business.”
Estimated 1,198 orders of WA wine plates in first year
Department of Licensing estimates there will be 1,198 of the wine country license plates ordered in 2022 with potential revenue to The State of Washington Tourism at $33,544. By 2027, the projection is for there to be 2,326 vehicles with the wine-theme plates, generating $65,128 for the SWT account.
Expenditures are estimated to be about $28,000. The Department of Correction estimates it will receive $8,000 to produce the plates. License plates are manufactured by incarcerated individuals who are paid an average of $1.17 per hour for this work.
Back in 2019, proceeds from that license plate would have gone to the Washington State Wine Commission for its work with the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority to promote tourism in Washington’s wine regions. Some critics have said a wine-themed license plate would mean the state condones drinking and driving.
The State of Washington Tourism, a non-profit organization, was formerly known as the Washington Tourism Alliance. The group was established after the shuttering of the Washington State Tourism Office in 2011, a move so unique in the country that news of it generated national headlines. Heather Bradshaw, communications director for the Washington State Wine Commission, serves on the SWT board of directors with Novakovich and more than a dozen other state leaders.
Among those signing on as supporting sponsors of Chambers’s bill are Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), owner of The Grape Choice Wine Shop & Wine Bar near Moss Bay; Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan), a former restaurateur; Cyndy Jacobsen (R-Puyallup), Mark Klicker (R-Walla Walla) and Robert Sutherland (R-Granite Falls).
Brad Klippert, a Republican from the wine country city of Kennewick, was among the three House members excused from Saturday’s vote.
The Washington wine industry accounts for $8.4 billion in-state economic impact including 36,500 related jobs and $2.4 billion in wine revenue. In 2018, an estimated 2.6 million people visited wineries across the state.
This special license plate won’t do any good to improve the Evergreen State’s generic license plate with its ranking of No. 24 on this website — which has Oregon at No. 16 and Idaho at No. 17 — but Washington state is comfortably ahead of last-place Michigan.