Gov. Peter Shumlin, a first-term Democrat, signed the bill into law on Tuesday during a ceremony in Rutland.
The license measure, originally a House proposal, was added into a Senate bill later in the 2011 session. It allows the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue the special plates to veterans and members of the United States Armed Forces for use on motorcycles and similar vehicles.
According to the finalized legislation, the commissioner will determine the type and style of the plate, although there is a requirement that an American flag, or a military-related emblem shall appear on one side of the plate. At a minimum, emblems will be available to recognize recipients of the Purple Heart, Pearl Harbor survivors, former prisoners of war and disabled veterans.
The governor’s office reported the plate will feature an American flag similar to the existing U.S. Veteran recognition plate available for cars and trucks.
"Vermont’s troops deserve our support and recognition," Shumlin said. "These license plates are one way we can honor our veterans who have served our state proudly in protecting our freedom."
State Rep. Michael Hebert, a Vernon Republican and Marine veteran, said since there are roughly 20 different specialty plates already in Vermont, it was appropriate to honor veterans with a motorcycle plate as well.
"A lot of vets ride bikes, and I thought it was a good thing to do and I was really happy to sponsor that," Hebert said. "From my experience being in the military in the 1960s, anything we can do to honor vets, I’m on top of. Being a vet from the 1960s was not always the most pleasant experience, so I really think we should do all we can for veterans, especially the guys who are volunteering now."
While the legislation establishes a special plate for motorcycle operators, it also permits current Armed Forces members to obtain veteran recognition license plates. Vermont’s law previously required active members to separate from military service before they were eligible for the recognition plates.
Commander Richard Guthrie of Brattleboro’s American Legion Post No. 5 said there are a lot of veteran organizations throughout the state and country who do excellent charity work through motorcycle rides.
"We see the fire department plate, police department, the Blue Knights [a motorcycle club made up of current and retired law enforcement officers], and now we have a lot of veteran riders, too, that do tremendous work for American Legion foundations and so forth," Guthrie said.
"So anything that brings out significant attention to veterans in front of you, it’s a good way to quietly give them thanks for their service," he added. "Every little bit helps. Many of these veterans, especially in the later wars of Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan and Iraq -- the toll that it has taken on their mental life and their families, they need all the recognition they can get."
Other veterans organizations worked for the passage of the legislation, including the Vietnam Veterans of America Rutland Chapter.
"The veterans in Vermont are proud of their service to this country. This is just another way of showing how proud we are of veterans, and how many of us there are," said president Adrian Megrath of the Rutland chapter.
Shumlin signed the bill at the chapter’s office.
Vermont’s DMV said military personnel and veterans can apply for the new plates beginning July 1.
"We would not be accepting any applications until July 1, and there’s no additional fee for the veterans motorcycle plates," said a DMV customer service representative. "They will just have to have their form signed by the Veterans Affairs, like they normally would for any other vehicle, like a car or a truck."
The Office of Veterans Affairs said the plates are a great way to establish contact with veterans who have never applied for benefits, especially Vermont National Guard members now returning from deployment to Afghanistan.
"Within a month of their return, about 10 percent of those who deployed came to our office to get an Afghanistan Campaign Plate," said Clayton Clark, director of Veterans Services, said in a statement. "This gives us an opportunity to both show our appreciation and talk to them about any assistance they may need."