- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory wants the North Carolina General Assembly to pass a law that would discontinue the use of the Confederate flag on specialty license plates issued by the state, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The Republican governor’s decision to ask the legislature to request the change is in response to the mass shootings at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, McCrory communications director Josh Ellis said.

There are more than 2,000 active plates in North Carolina highlighting the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Division of Motor Vehicles spokesman Steve Abbott said, with the group’s logo featuring a Confederate flag of a red background and white stars inside a blue cross prominently featured.

“The time is right to change this policy,” Ellis said in a written statement.

Other states and corporations are wrestling with whether to dispose of the use or sales of the Confederate flag, particularly South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley is calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe earlier Tuesday announced steps to have the Confederate flag removed from vanity license plates in his state, particularly the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week also determined that states can limit the content of license plates because they are state property.

One North Carolina legislative leader apparently doesn’t see a need for the legislature to get involved.

Shelly Carver, spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the issue raised by McCrory “is one that can be addressed by the executive branch” because DMV is responsible for approving plate designs. But Abbott said DMV usually is not involved in the plate design, leaving it to the organization.

There was no immediate response from the office of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. Leaders of the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn’t respond by late Tuesday to email or phone messages seeking comment.

House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said he supported eliminating the flag on license plates but added North Carolina should look at “all offensive images” sanctioned by the state over the years. Hall said attention shouldn’t be diverted from keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

“The issue that is killing people in North Carolina is guns, not license plates,” Hall said.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty plate was first issued in North Carolina 1998, Abbott said. A state law authorized a specialty plate for “civic clubs” in part if DMV received at least 300 applications from a particular club. Unlike other specialty plate laws, the statute makes no specific reference to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

DMV initially didn’t approve the request by the group. The refusal ultimately went to court, where the Court of Appeals ruled the group met the law’s definitions of being “nationally recognized” and “civic” in nature, as well as performing historical and benevolent activities.

A Confederate battle flag doesn’t fly on North Carolina’s old Capitol grounds, although the national flag used by the Confederate government, with its circle of white stars and red and white stripes, has flown over the Capitol dome annually on Confederate Memorial Day, a day observed in southern states to honor those who served in the confederacy during the Civil War. In North Carolina, the day is May 10.

The square on which the Capitol building sits includes a large memorial and obelisk to the state’s Confederate war dead, as well as a monument to the “North Carolina Women of the Confederacy.” The grounds also include a statue of Civil War-era Gov. Zebulon Vance.

Talking to reporters after a public event in Charlotte earlier Tuesday, McCrory praised Haley for her call Monday to remove the Confederate battle flag from a monument on the Statehouse grounds. “It was a courageous decision, but it was a decision that needed to be made,” McCrory said, according to a recording provided by McCrory’s office.

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