We have bad news for those in Maine who want their car’s license plates to display provocative words. The state has introduced a new law that allows it to reject hateful, violent or obscene plates of vanity.
Since 2015, when the state relaxed vanity plate standards, Maine license plates have been a messaging wild west, as the Vanity of Maine Facebook group follows. With pictures of Maine plaques with terms like F # CKNUT, 67PLUS2, and the surprisingly current COVID69, the state has only banned posts that could incite violence.
The new law seeks to change that and the state even has the power to recall offensive plaques that are already on the road, although officials say they may never go that far.
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“We’re not going to start shooting the plates,” Maine secretary of state Sheenna Bellows told the Portland Press. “But people who review the law and realize their plates are not in accordance with the law may wish to voluntarily swap their vanity plate for another plate of their choice. No one will benefit from acquired rights.
She adds that the law has been carefully crafted to resist free speech prosecutions, telling the media outlet that it “would truly welcome a legal challenge.” Indeed, a number of states have faced lawsuits because laws attempting to control what can and cannot be written on vanity plaques were too broad or relied too much on interpretation.
Senator Bill Diamond, who sponsored the bill on which the law is based, argues, however, that vanity plates do not work the same way as, say, a bumper sticker.
“The plaque is public property, like a public building,” Diamond said. “Individuals have the right to freedom of expression, but they do not have the right to degrade government property by exercising this right. “