Vulgar license plates are out as hundreds of new laws take effect in Maine

If you want to say a little something horrible, hateful or violent on your license plates, you are going to have to do it in another state.

A lot more than 500 new guidelines or regulation modifications accredited by the Legislature before this year will get effect Monday, from the creation of a new point out holiday for Juneteenth to tougher penalties for domestic violence crimes involving young children.

Just one of the new legal guidelines lets Maine Secretary of Condition Shenna Bellows to reject vanity license plates for a wide variety of motives, including loathe speech, violence, obscenity and those people that are sexually express.

It also sets in location a process for Bellows to remember beforehand issued plates dependent on problems, if they cross the line. These complaints will be reviewed by a unique panel, which will also hear appeals if a motorist wishes to dispute the state’s conclusions about what is or is not permitted.

Bellows mentioned the state is not likely to sift through the existing plates to uncover offensive tags and promptly confiscate them.

“We are not likely to start yanking the plates on Monday,” Bellows claimed. “But people today who overview the legislation and know their plates slide outside of the law could want to voluntarily exchange their self-importance plate for another plate of their preference. No one will be grandfathered.”

A new point out law lets the Maine secretary of condition to reject self-importance license plates for a range of explanations, such as hate speech, violence, obscenity and all those that are sexually explicit.  Michele McDonald/Employees Photographer, file

Bellows, a former executive director of the ACLU of Maine, supported the legislation change earlier this yr in a split from her predecessor, Matthew Dunlap, who told legislators in the previous that limiting these kinds of plates could be regarded a violation of a driver’s constitutionally secured totally free speech and may well not be defensible in courtroom.

Dunlap was in business office when the Legislature calm the requirements in 2015, correctly allowing for obscenities but barring messages that may possibly incite violence – what he referred to as “fighting words and phrases.” That transform opened the doorway to a broad wide variety of vulgar and offensive messages, according to these supporting tighter rules.

But the new law, based on a invoice sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is tightly crafted to address prospective legal difficulties these as a single utilized to get a lawsuit in New Hampshire around the turned down self-importance plate “COPSLIE.”

Diamond claimed the law is written to hold up towards any legal challenges primarily based on free speech.

“I would really welcome a legal obstacle,” Diamond stated.

Vainness plate regulation may differ from point out to condition, and authorized problems are not uncommon. Courts have struck down provisions they have deemed much too imprecise and hence open to arbitrary interpretation.

A federal judge issued a preliminary ruling very last tumble hanging down Rhode Island’s law allowing directors to make judgments based mostly on what they considered to be offensive to great style or decency. Approximately similar language also was struck down by a federal decide in California late previous calendar year.

A court docket in New Hampshire struck down equivalent restrictions in 2014, but that condition now works by using a conventional with far more particular restrictions like in the new Maine legislation.

It is unclear how lots of plates may possibly be matter to recall or evaluate, but in her testimony to the Legislature, Bellows mentioned a cursory search of BMV documents of the far more than 119,000 vainness plates on the street she observed at minimum 119 that provided the most typical “four-letter” terms.

A Facebook entertainment site, dubbed the Vanity of Maine, characteristics images of Maine self-importance plates snapped by contributors to the page such as several that could be subject to the new legislation. The web site has 15, 343 followers and features photos of license plates from the obscene and hateful to social commentary, these as “OK KAREN” and “(expletive) 2020.”

The page’s creator, Morgan Alexander, 31, of Bar Harbor, stated he started posting license plate pics on Instagram in 2016, and there are extra than 18,000 images of plates now.

A hotel manager, Alexander claimed he, way too, has a plate featuring a obscure sexual reference that he suspects could make it subject to a recall.

“I’m Alright with it,” Alexander claimed of the new legislation. Plates with expletives “have gotten way out of hand,” he said. “At very first it was humorous and now it’s just way out of manage. … People have youngsters who can read through and for me the plates with the f-term on them can go bye-bye.”

Diamond, who also is a previous secretary of condition and oversaw the company that difficulties license plates, mentioned lots of people today don’t recognize they do not own their vanity plates the way they have bumper stickers. The charge paid to the point out for the plate is for the privilege of owning a customized plate information, but is not a invest in of the plate, he claimed.

“The plate is public residence, like a community creating,” Diamond stated. “Individuals have a suitable to totally free speech, but they do not have the correct to deface government home in training that correct.”

The ban on vulgar and hateful language isn’t the only new regulation concerning license plates. A person places a moratorium on specialty plates.

Maine has a lot more than 25 different license plate models with quite a few specialty plates that serve as fundraisers for nonprofit results in. Specialty plates spotlight a range of causes and elevate money for every little thing from the University of Maine Process to farming and lobstering to the Barbara Bush Children’s Medical center. Motorists shell out an extra $20 rate for a specialty plate and a $25 payment for a vanity plate.

The standard-concern license plate for Maine functions the legendary formal condition fowl, the chickadee. Bellows said town clerks who problem plates domestically have explained that since not all the plates are well-liked and most Maine motorists are content to have the chickadee plate, they run into troubles with obtaining place to retailer the massive assortment of plates Maine gives.

Still an additional new legislation, nevertheless, provides one much more specialty plate to the blend: the Maine lighthouse plate.

The plate, which depicts a lighthouse that seems to be like Portland Head Gentle, will be added to the blend this yr, with the expenses from the plate going to the Maine Lighthouse Trust,  a nonprofit devoted to the preservation and restoration of lighthouses on the Maine coast.


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