More than a dozen Republicans introduced a bill in the Minnesota House Thursday aimed at authorizing the sale of “Choose Life” license plates in Minnesota, with sales revenue going to groups that oppose abortion. The bill is nearly identical to one passed in 2003 in Florida, one of 23 states that produces the plates. But as the Florida Independent found, tracking where funds raised through the license plate sales wasn’t an easy task.
The bill states that the plates “must include (1) a brightly colored, crayon-like image of children, and (2) the words ‘Choose Life.'” Funds from the sale of the plates will be distributed to counties that will then give the funds to nonprofit groups.
That money can only go to organizations that oppose abortion: “A county may not distribute funds to any agency that is directly or indirectly involved in or associated with abortion activities, including counseling for or referrals to abortion clinics, providing medical abortion-related procedures, or pro-abortion advertising.”
The attempt in Minnesota is part of a nationwide effort by Choose Life, Inc. and according to that group’s website, the plates are being pushed in Minnesota by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. Choose Life started the movement by getting the phrase added to specialty license plates in 1999.
So far, 23 states have implemented such a license plate program, although only nine restrict funds from going to organizations that provide women with the full range of reproductive options as the Minnesota bill would do.
Minnesota’s bill is strikingly similar to Florida’s law. In fact, the text of the bill is nearly identical to the one passed in Florida in 2003. The program in Florida has come under some scrutiny, as the funds have been difficult to track. The Florida Independent attempted to find out where the funding from the plates went in that state, but had little luck. That may get easier if Florida Republicans get their way: They’re hoping to change the law so that all of the funds raised by the plates go to Choose Life, Inc.
The bill has raised constitutional questions in several states where it has been proposed. New Jersey was wrapped up in a six-year lawsuit over the plates when the state finally relented. The Choose Life activists have sued state legislatures that failed to pass license plate legislation on the grounds that it violates their free speech rights.
Reproductive rights groups in Minnesota declined the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment on the bill, stating that they’d prefer to wait and see how far it advances.
The bill was introduced by Republican Reps. Larry Howes of Walker, Kurt Daudt of Crown, Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, Bob Gunther of Fairmont, Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud, Ron Shimanski of Silver Lake, Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Bob Dettmer of Forest Lake, Bruce Anderson of Buffalo, David Hancock of Bemidji, Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, Dan Fabian of Roseau, Jim Abeler of Anoka, Mike Benson of Rochester, Bruce Vogel of Willmar.