Options such as Choose Life
are not available
By Peter Wong
(Salem) Statesman Journal
Anti- or pro-abortion license plates are not an issue in Oregon,
even though 10 states offer and 12 more are considering a
Choose Life option that critics say takes one
side on the issue.
The state would have to drop one of the three special license
plates it offers now if the Oregon Legislature ever chose
A bill passed by the 2003 Legislature and signed by Gov.
Ted Kulongoski also raises the minimum number of plates that
must be sold for a higher-education institution, nonprofit
agency or veterans organization to qualify for special
variations on standard plates.
The new law bars expressions of political opinion or religious
belief on plates. It contrasts with laws in other states that
allow Choose Life, which sponsors say is intended
to promote adoption but critics argue is opposed to abortion
Sponsored by Sen. Charles Starr, R-Hillsboro, Senate Bill
508 was intended to put some limits on the plethora of plates.
According to a legislative staff report, Oregon has 30 of
them when variations on the standard plate are considered.
In addition to the standard plate, which depicts a tree and
mountains, Oregon has three plates with special backgrounds
that can be used only on passenger cars and trucks:
Part of the money from each special plate, plus money from
customized standard plates known as vanity plates,
go to the state anti-litter fund.
Oregon is not alone in issuing special plates, but it offers
fewer varieties than its neighbors. California has nine special
plates, Idaho 28 and Nevada 14. Washington has 16, although
all are variations on its standard plate that depicts a mountain
in the background.
Under state motor-vehicle regulations, which the Oregon Supreme
Court upheld last year, motorists are restricted from using
certain words or phrases on customized plates. The court rejected
a challenge by a former wine merchant who sought to use WINE
During the 2003 session, bills were submitted to allow Oregon
to issue other special plates, including cancer screening
and treatment, education, the humane society and the 200th
anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
None of the bills advanced beyond a committee hearing.
A 1999 bill for a kids first license plate also
died in committee.
More than a decade ago, the Legislature authorized license
plates commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.
Proceeds helped pay for related activities.
The bill by the 2003 Legislature also raises from 50 to 500
the number of plates that must be sold for a higher-education
institution, nonprofit agency or veterans organization
to qualify for a modified standard plate. Such plates, the
law said, may not contain expressions of political opinion
or religious belief.
Symbols are allowed in some instances, such as the University
of Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State University Beavers, or
the Purple Heart, the military decoration awarded for wounds
An organization requesting a modified plate must put up $10,000,
although the money is refunded if 1,000 license plate sets
The new law has no effect on several existing categories
of plates for disabled military veterans, former prisoners
of war, active Oregon National Guard members, amateur radio
operators and elected officials.