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Nebraska passes bill to create ‘Choose Life’ license plates

Photo: AP

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska residents will be able to display their opposition to abortion on their license plates under a bill passed Monday by the state Legislature.

Senators voted 35-5 to send Gov. Pete Ricketts a bill that would task the state Department of Motor Vehicles with designing “Choose Life” license plates. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices at a January committee hearing, and Ricketts is expected to sign the measure.

Putting any political message on a state-issued license plate clears the way for future battles over specialty plates and will waste the Legislature’s time, said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. Opponents filibustered the “Choose Life” plate bill during each of its three readings.

“We’re going to see more of these proposals,” Schumacher said. “They’re going to be controversial, and we’re going to spend time arguing about this. Can you afford to take two, three days to argue about a license plate?”

Other plates approved by the state Legislature recognize the University of Nebraska, the state’s 150th anniversary, mountain lion conservation, military service members and breast cancer awareness. None of those are divisive the way the anti-abortion license plates are, said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln.

“This time the speech that’s controversial is something you like,” she told supporters of the bill. “What happens when it’s speech you don’t like?”

Organizations also can apply for specialty license plates if they prepay for 250 applications and provide proof at least 250 people will pay an annual $70 renewal fee. That’s how groups including the Nebraska Cattlemen, Creighton University and Ducks Unlimited got their plate designs.

People who want anti-abortion license plates should have pursued that option instead, said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. He said churches could pass around collection baskets to pay the renewal fees.

“If every Catholic car were to be interested in having one of those plates, you’d have enough,” Chambers said.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland began fundraising to create organizational plates with the slogan “My Body, My Choice” in mid-March and so far has raised half of the money it needs to apply, spokeswoman Rachel Lopez said. She said the National Choose Life effort should have done the same for its license plates.

Bob Blank, chairman of the Nebraska chapter, told the AP earlier this year his group couldn’t gather the signatures or money needed to apply but he expected state-issued “Choose Life” plates would be more popular than any other specialty plate.

Twenty-nine states already offer “Choose Life” license plates, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The plates will become available in Nebraska next January and cost $5 more than standard license plates. Additional revenue would supplement federal funds for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.