AUGUSTA (WGME) — Obscene license plates could be a thing of the past in Maine.
Several bills before state lawmakers would allow the secretary of state to recall some plates or deny new applications, depending on what they spell out.
Traditionally, Maine’s secretary of state has decided what could and couldn’t be on license plates. But in 2015 the Maine Legislature narrowed that authority to messages that encourage or could result in violence or other unlawful activities.
“I am no longer permitted by law to remove plates with the F-word from the roadways and that’s concerning,” said Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
One of the bills would expand her authority to recall or not issue plates with vulgar messages, racial or ethnic slurs, sexual references, and drug use references.
Some Mainers think some plates should be pulled.
Donna-Rae Crowell has a vanity plate. She said she is not opposed to the concept
“If they’re really obscene they probably should! I know a lot of times kids [are] reading plates and you don’t want them to say bad things,” she said.
Nona Wills has a plate that plays off her name.
“We did it just to make people laugh and be fun and just to be a little different. And to have something that’s a little off-color, little obscene, there’s no place for that on the back of your car,” Wills said.
The secretary of state said state officials mostly get complaints about the F-word.
“Oh yeah, that probably shouldn’t be on license plates, I would think,” Crowell said.
Proponents have said this does still allow for freedom of speech and that there are other ways people can speak their minds.
“If you’re going to do a bumper sticker that’s one thing but to have the state give you permission to put that on your license plate, I just don’t think that’s right,” Wills said.
That’s the issue Bellows points to– license plates are state property and she said the state can make reasonable restrictions while still protecting people’s rights to free speech.
“Incitement to violence, profanity, ethnic, racial, religious or other slurs or reference to illegal or criminal activity are directly contrary to the public interest,” she said. “We think there absolutely can be a balance.”