'Choose Life' license plate political, House leaders say
Posted April 14, 2009 6:27 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2009 1:55 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives are divided over a bill in support of a special license plate that advocates life instead of abortion.
North Carolina offers 135 different special license plates, all of which state lawmakers have approved. Among those, 44 are special-interest plates, 26 are collegiate, 26 are NASCAR and 11 are for civic groups.
Rep. Mitch Gillespie has tried for eight years to get the "Choose Life" license plate, available in 24 other states, approved in North Carolina.
If approved, $15 from every plate sold would benefit the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a nonprofit group that generally provides alternatives to abortion.
But for years, the bill has been tied up in the House because of a general guideline that customized license plates have no political viewpoints.
"The way it's laid out here, you don't see any controversial plates, any political plates anywhere in the state," Rep. Ty Harrell, D-Wake, said. "You see the Great Smoky Mountains, First in Flight. You see sea turtles – causes without controversy."
But those advocating for the license plate disagree.
"We're not going to unveil a tag that's going to be offensive to anybody," Gillespie said Tuesday.
"It's very hard to understand why, when we have (more than) 130 specialized license plates, the leadership of the Legislature won't allow us to have a 'Choose Life' plate," said Eva Ritchey, president of the North Carolina Pro-Life Democrats.
House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said he believes it is a freedom of speech issue. If a vote is not allowed, the issue should become a legal one.
"If the state doesn't do this voluntarily, the state will get an opportunity to do this and spend hundreds of thousands in legal fees and lose," Stam said.
Anti-abortion groups in other states have already sued over the plates.
In a case before a federal appeals court Tuesday, New Jersey officials argued the plate does not meet their program's guidelines. The Children First Foundation, a New-York anti-abortion group, said the state is violating its free-speech rights.
Federal courts around the country have split on the issue. The three-judge panel did not indicate when it would rule on the New Jersey case.