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Secretary of State bill would change Maine's standard license plate from chickadee to flag design

A sample of a new Maine license plate featuring the 1901 Maine state flag.
Office of the Secretary of State
A sample of a new Maine license plate featuring the 1901 Maine state flag.

For 25 years, chickadees have perched on Maine's standard license plates.

Before that, there was a lobster design, preceded by plain black and white plates. Now, the Legislature will consider if the state bird should be replaced with the 1901 state flag design, made up of a white pine tree and star design.

Each change has come with controversy, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows told members of the Legislature's transportation committee on Wednesday. The public hearing to shift from black and white to lobster plates in 1987 was attended by more than 100 speakers, most of whom were opposed, according to a Chicago Tribute articleBellows included in her testimony.

Bellows said changing the plate again will likely ruffle some feather. But the proposal to change Maine's standard plate committee members heard about Wednesday is necessary for public safety reasons, she said.

"But I do think it's a good sign that there aren't 100 opponents behind me," she said.

Plates that are old are often faded or peeling. That makes it hard for tolling plazas to register plates as they pass and for police to identify vehicles involved in crashes and crimes, Bellows said.

The 1901 flag is an iconic symbol in Maine itself. Few legislative sessions go by without a lawmaker attempting to restore it as Maine's original flag.

If the bill is approved, the new license plates will be issued starting in the spring of 2025. There will be no cost to reissuing the plates.

Reporter Caitlin Andrews came to Maine Public in 2023 after nearly eight years in print journalism. She hails from New Hampshire originally.