A bill that just passed the Washington State Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the House today would help veterans like the late Dean Gehring, a longtime Port Orchard resident, qualify for special Prisoner of War license plates.
According to his family, Gehring — who passed away last November at 78 — had tried for years to get one of the plates, but did not meet Washington state requirements.
During his service in the Korean War, Gehring was captured in enemy territory and held in a shack for two days before he managed to escape. However, he did not qualify for a POW license plate for his car because the current law requires that a prisoner be held at least 29 days, according to Sen. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), who is sponsoring the bill.
Kilmer became involved when Gehring’s granddaughter, Port Orchard resident Shandra White, approached him for help.
White, 33, said she promised her grandfather in his last days that she would “get this done,” explaining that she wanted to continue his fight to change the requirements because “he was my grandfather and he’s a hero.”
So White e-mailed Sen. Kilmer and “asked him what we could do. And he got back to me in just a few hours, and has been really, really helpful. He has kept me informed of the whole process.”
“It just seemed so obvious to me that we needed a change in the regulations to allow people like Dean to have their service and sacrifice recognized, so I told his family that we would get that law changed,” said Kilmer, who sponsored Senate Bill 6237 to modify the eligibility criteria for the special plates.
The change proposed by Kilmer will modify the regulations so that any veteran that was held captive and received a prisoner of war medal would be eligible for a POW plate.
“Even if you’re held for one day, you’re a prisoner,” said Port Orchard resident Sue Gehring, Dean’s sister-in-law.
On Feb. 19, the bill passed the senate unanimously with 48 “yes” votes. Its first reading before the House Transportation Committee was scheduled for last Thursday, and a public hearing is scheduled before the committee for Wednesday.
Gehring said she is glad the bill passed the Senate and may soon become law, even if it did not come soon enough for her grandfather.
“It would have been nice if he would have been able to get one, but I know he’s watching and he’s proud,” she said. “The big thing is getting the law changed.”