ACLU warned legislators that lawsuit would follow if the bill had failed; calls on General Assembly to move specialty license plate process to DMV

Richmond, VA –  On the last day of the regular session of the General Assembly, after a tortuous legislative process that nearly resulted in litigation, the House and Senate passed a bill authorizing a pro-choice specialty license plate with sales revenues going to Planned Parenthood.
Surprisingly, the final votes of 22-15 in the Senate and 64-30 in the House were not close.  Both chambers had passed the bill earlier in the session, but the House had amended it to divert revenues away from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund.  With different versions of the bill in the House and Senate, it was sent to conference.
Last night, the conferees agreed to send the original bill supporting Planned Parenthood to the House and Senate. Given that the House tends to oppose reproductive rights and that it had overwhelmingly supported the non-Planned Parenthood version of the bill, speculation was that the House would reject the conference report, thus killing the bill altogether.
The new plate, displaying the phrase Trust Women, Respect Choice, counters a law passed in 2009 authorizing a Choose Life license plate.  According to the ACLU, based on recent court decisions holding that specialty license plates are a public forum in which viewpoint discrimination is prohibited, the General Assembly was required to pass a pro-choice plate once the anti-choice plate had been enacted.
After the bill was amended in the House to change the plate’s funding recipient, the ACLU warned legislators that any scenario that did not result in the passage of the bill with revenues directed to Planned Parenthood would invite a lawsuit on free speech grounds.
“For this bill, we asked legislators to put aside their views on abortion and to vote based on the constitutional principle that everyone has an equal right to express their views,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.   “Apparently that was not easy for Virginia lawmakers to do, but at the last hour a solid majority came around and made the right choice.”
The ACLU has long advocated for the General Assembly to authorize DMV to administer the specialty license plate process in order to remove politics from the decision- making process.
“This kind of mess, where the General Assembly came perilously close to a lawsuit, is why DMV ought to be running the specialty license plate program. We’ll be supporting a bill to do just that in the next General Assembly, while the memory of this near-fiasco is still fresh in legislators’ minds,” added Willis.
The ACLU memo sent to House and Senate conferees on Wednesday can be found online at:
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022