House panel OKs 'Fallen Hero' license plate bill

Posted at 8:52 PM, Jan 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-27 22:52:31-05

“Fallen Hero” license plates could be displayed on government vehicles under a bill passed by the House Transportation and Energy Committee today.

The committee’s 12 - 1 vote was very important to Heather Tharp, whose husband, Sam Brownlee, lost his life in the line of duty in 2010.

The Weld County Sheriff’s Deputy was trying to help apprehend a suspect who began fleeing from authorities in Morgan County.  The high speed chase continued into Weld County.  Officers deployed stop sticks and cornered the suspect in a residential area of Evans.  During a struggle, the suspect grabbed Brownlee’s gun and shot him three times.

“I don’t think grieving ever stops,” Tharp told Denver7.  “It just changes.”

Tharp said she supports HB 16-1009 because it’s a way to give back to the community and a way to remember Sam.

“It makes me feel good to see a (Fallen Hero) plate on a car,” she said. “It makes me think, okay, I’m not the only one these plates have touched.  Others have taken steps to purchase the plates, make a donation and put them on their cars.  It’s a very special thing.”

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said his office auctioned off the slain deputy’s patrol car and planned to use the money to purchase Fallen Hero plates for the rest of the patrol fleet.

“We ran into a little stumbling block,” he said.

The stumbling block was that when lawmakers approved the original Fallen Hero plates in 2012, the law didn’t allow government vehicles to display the plates, without losing their tax exempt status.

State Representative Perry Buck, R-Weld and Larimer Counties, wants to change the law.

“Sam Brownlee was as big as life,” she said.  “We don’t ever want to forget those heroes.  If this plate can carry that legacy, then I’m very proud to carry this plate.”

During discussion of the bill, some lawmakers asked whether the Fallen Hero plate will have the Gvt imprint, signifying it as a government vehicle.

When told it wouldn’t, some questioned whether it would be easier for cop impersonators who might purchase the specialty plate to stop motorists.

Buck’s advisors told lawmakers that the Gvt lettering could easily be included on the plate.

But Reams said it’s necessary.

“We’re always concerned about everyone’s safety,” he said, “and it’s a legitimate concern, but currently, not all patrol vehicles, not all police vehicles display a government plate.  It’s not a requirement.”

Tharp said drivers who want the Fallen Hero plate will pay the regular license plate fee, plus a $50 donation to the Colorado Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.

It’s a one-time donation.  From then on, you can renew the plate at the normal rate.

“The money donated to C.O.P.S. helps officers get to (Washington) DC for police week, it helps kids camps and survivor’s camps,” Tharp said.  “It changes your life when tragedy strikes.”

“This is a very close issue to my agency,” the Sheriff said. “It gives us a chance to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice… and really bring awareness that we do have feelings.  We have emotions and this is an important cause for us.”

The bill now advances to the appropriations committee, where lawmakers will determine how much it will cost taxpayers.

Tharp is optimistic it will pass muster.

“One step at a time,” she said. “I’m confident we can get it done.”