POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

A bill seeks to ban inappropriate messages on personalized Utah license plates

Feb 16, 2024, 2:00 PM

utah license plate, personalized license plates are at the center of a new bill...

Utah license plates are displayed at the Capitol in Salt Lake City as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs HB127, which adds the "In God We Trust" plate to the standard options available, on Monday, March 21, 2016. (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — For anyone thinking about putting some choice language on their personalized Utah license plates, a Utah lawmaker’s proposal could take that option away.

Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, proposed legislation that would prohibit the Utah Tax Commission from issuing license plates if the request included inappropriate language.

The bill wouldn’t allow swear words, slurs, sexually explicit messages, or references to drugs, gangs or other illegal activity.

Thurston proposed similar legislation in past sessions.

In a previous bill, he proposed a moratorium for the personalized license plate program as a whole. That legislation did not make it to the governor’s desk before that legislative session ended.

When speaking to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee Friday, Thurston said he previously pursued this issue with the goal of defending the state from free speech lawsuits.

“In some cases, this still may open us to a constitutional challenge. It’s the very best we can do to balance free speech rights with things that are appropriate to be on a license plate that says Utah.”

With this year’s bill, Thurston is taking a more direct approach.

“If somebody says they want the n-word on their license plate and we say ‘no you can’t have that,’ and if they challenge us in court, we’re willing to make that fight.”

At least one other state has faced a lawsuit over denying a personalized plate.

The bill passed through the Utah House, but the committee voted to hold the bill or table it for later. One lawmaker said they’d want to hear more from the Utah Tax Commission directly.

The bill would need approval from that committee, the Senate and Gov. Spencer Cox by March 1 to become law.

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A bill seeks to ban inappropriate messages on personalized Utah license plates