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‘Choose Life’ plates drive controversy
The drive to offer “Choose Life” license plates to Virginia motorists may have its best chance in years of succeeding, needing further approval only from a Republican-controlled House and an anti-abortion Catholic governor.
But one Republican delegate says the measure - passed 20-19 in the Senate on Tuesday only because it was attached to an omnibus bill - will needlessly stoke partisan passions and distract from more important matters.
“It’s just going to be divisive. Practically speaking we have other things that we should be dealing with,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican. Mr. Albo also questioned the bill’s prospects in the House, even though the House has supported similar efforts in the past.
In addition, a federal appeals court already has ruled that states offering anti-abortion plates also must offer plates for abortion-rights advocates.
The Democrat-controlled state Senate approved the license plates after Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, Fairfax Republican, attached the proposal to an omnibus license plate bill that would add to the 200 other specialty license plates already available in the state. New proposed plates include those that hail the Washington Capitals and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“This was one thing that is fairly overdue,” said Mr. Cuccinelli. Of every $25 raised from purchasing the Choose Life plates, $15 will go toward funding 40 crisis-pregnancy centers across the state.
Mr. Cuccinelli previously tried to have Choose Life plates passed as a stand-alone bill, but that was killed in the Senate Transportation Committee after a 6-6 tie.
He said he is confident the plates will pass through the House. The bill, however, has yet to be assigned to committee in the House.
“I figure if I can get this bill out of the Senate, then it shouldn’t be a problem in the House,” he said.
The assembly previously voted to legalize the plates in 2003, but pro-choice Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, vetoed the bill.
Advocates feel that the effort has a much greater chance to succeed under Gov. Tim Kaine, also a Democrat.
“This is just another opportunity for Virginians to express themselves. It has solid support in the House and it should go to the governor’s desk and we expect it to be signed into law,” said Chris Freund, spokesman for the Virginia pro-life group Family Foundation.
A spokesman for Mr. Kaine didn’t commit to a position on the bill.
“When it comes to the governor’s desk, he’ll take a look at it and act accordingly,” said spokesman Gordon Hickey.
The movement to offer Choose Life plates also has sparked legal battles over free speech.
In a 2004 case in South Carolina - Planned Parenthood of South Carolina v. Rose - the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a traditionally conservative court, found the plates were private speech and that it was unconstitutional for a state to sell them without also offering a plate for abortion-rights advocates.
Virginia is covered by the 4th Circuit.
In 2006, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati allowed Tennessee to offer pro-life plates, deeming them speech protected by the First Amendment.
Mr. Albo said he fears that once pro-life activists are allowed a plate, then every interest group in the state will vie for them, flooding the Assembly with distracting legislation.
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