Monday, May 8, 2006

It's how easy to create a new license plate?

Apparently, there are no restrictions to the message on a commemorative license plate in Massachusetts, as long as the organization creating the plate has $3,000 reservations and is registered as a non-profit. You'd think it would take more than that, but as an anti-abortion group found, that's all there is to it. The Boston Globe reports:

Merry Nordeen is gathering support for a ''Choose Life" license plate, part of a nationwide effort by abortion opponents to raise money for groups that support adoption. In some of the 12 other states with Choose Life license plates, critics who contend that the plates are political statements have filed lawsuits, and one case from Tennessee may end up going to the US Supreme Court.

Three years ago, Nordeen, who opposes abortion, contacted the Florida-based group, Choose Life Inc., that promotes the special plates, sunny yellow with ''Choose Life" written in a child's handwriting above a crayon drawing of two children. If she is successful in bringing them to Massachusetts, she said, she hopes the Registry of Motor Vehicles will allow the same design.

''I thought, 'Gee, I'd really like to have a plate like that on my car,' " she said. ''Unfortunately, it was not available in Massachusetts."

Last weekend, Nordeen took her campaign to the Internet, asking supporters by e-mail to back her effort to collect 3,000 registrations by summer. If she gathers $40 registration checks from 3,000 people who agree to buy the license plates, the state will issue them, said Amie O'Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Registry.


Massachusetts has 12 special license plates that support causes from environmental protection to curing cancer to the families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None supports political or religious groups.

If the Choose Life plates are approved, $12 of the $40 fee would go to the state. The other $28 would go to the groups supported by the Massachusetts Choose Life chapter, headed by Nordeen and her husband, Kenneth, who are the parents of six children. Nordeen said the group would award the money to antiabortion organizations that submitted grant applications, from pregnancy counseling groups to agencies that place children for adoption.


The plates have been lucrative for the nonprofit groups they fund. Nationally, the plates have raised $5 million for pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies. About $4 million came from Florida residents who have chosen the license plate, the country's first, since it became available in 2000, said Russ Amerling, national coordinator of Choose Life Inc.

In Massachusetts, however, the Legislature does not need to approve the special license plate. Any nonprofit group can receive a special plate, as long as it submits 3,000 registrations.

''If you meet the criteria under the law, then you can have a plate," O'Hearn said.

If a nonprofit group supporting abortion rights met the same criteria and applied for special license plates, she said, the Registry would approve its application. No abortion rights groups have yet applied.

I don't think a license plate is the place for a political statement (as the Centerfield weblog wrote: "If you want your free speech, make an effing bumper sticker, don't drag the state government into a food fight."), but I'm not sure there's much that can be done about it, since the legislature decided that any non-profit with 3,000 applications can have a plate. You'd think there would be some sort of restriction on message, or the provision that the legislature (or someone) should approve a message. But I guess not.

Now, if I can just get 3,000 alumni to buy a Fiat Lux license plate, maybe we could put my alma mater back on sound financial footing...

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