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Effort to strip specialty license plate funds from Harbor Branch fails


Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation will get to keep more than $1.4 million in annual revenue from two specialty license plates for at least one more year.

A proposed amendment to House and Senate specialty license plate bills that would have redistributed the proceeds from sales of the "Protect Wild Dolphins" and "Protect Florida Whales" tags among a statewide coalition of marine mammal rescue and research organizations – including Harbor Branch – died just before the close of the 2019 legislative session last Saturday.

Members of the One Ocean One Health Research Conservation Institute based at Georgia Aquarium's conservation field station in Marineland, Florida had sought the legislation that would have designated their group to administer the tag revenues paid by Florida drivers. But the 2019 legislative session ended with no action.

That means the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation – the institute's fund raising and charitable arm – will maintain control of the money and keep awarding it exclusively to Harbor Branch scientists for research, conservation and public outreach.

That has been standard practice since shortly after Harbor Branch became part of FAU in 2007.  Before that, the Foundation shared revenues from the dolphin plate (created in 1998) and the whale tag (2003) with several of the groups that make up One Ocean One Health.

Dr. Tim Mullican, a veterinarian at the Marineland field station, said he would meet with One Ocean One Health leadership to make a decision on whether to try to amend the specialty tag law during the 2020 legislative session. 

The Harbor Branch Foundation opposed the amendments and lobbied against them in Tallahassee.