Free speech fight snags license plate cover ban - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Free speech fight snags license plate cover ban

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Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 11:04 pm | Updated: 9:47 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

An ongoing court fight over the question of free speech and abortion has sidelined legislation to outlaw license plate covers.

The Senate fell two votes short of the 16 necessary to approve the measure that would have clarified that those plastic lenses designed to thwart photo enforcement and red light cameras are illegal. That tally came just a day after HB2250 had received preliminary approval on a voice vote.

But that may not be the end of the matter. Five senators were not present for Wednesday’s vote, leaving the door open for resurrecting the bill as early as today.

The new opposition, however, was apparently unrelated to the question of whether lawmakers should block their constituents from hiding their license plates.

Instead, what is causing concern is whether legislators should potentially undermine a lawsuit brought by a coalition of anti-abortion groups to force the state to issue “Choose Life” license plates — a lawsuit in which the abortion foes have won the latest round.

Central to the battle is whether the state License Plate Commission can reject a group’s request for a special plate because the message is too controversial.

Arizona law allows organizations to seek special license plates bearing their messages. These plates cost an additional $25 a year, with $17 of that going to an acceptable charitable use.

Many of these plates are created by legislative action, such as one for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, where the proceeds go to selected charities.

But the law also allows the separate License Plate Commission to review and approve requests.

In 2002 the Arizona Life Coalition proposed a plate with the faces of two children on the left side of the plate and the phrase “Choose Life” along the bottom — where regular plates now proclaim “The Grand Canyon State.” The commission rejected the request, with some comments by members that its message was too controversial.

In January, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the commission impermissibly denied the request solely because of its content. The state has appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court which may or may not take the case.

It is what happens if that ruling stands that created Wednesday’s legislative concerns.

HB2250 would do more than ban license plate covers. It also would abolish the License Plate Commission.

Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, said these kind of decisions should be left to lawmakers.

But the 9th Circuit, in that January decision, had ordered the “Choose Life” plate be approved by the License Plate Commission.

And Sen. Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, said that court order cannot be implemented if the commission no longer exists, a move she said would effectively overturn the appellate court ruling and kill efforts to get the new plate.

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