Facebook Twitter

Utah lawmakers pass license plate reform bill — but you can still get personalized plates

SHARE Utah lawmakers pass license plate reform bill — but you can still get personalized plates

License plates on the wall in an area where the plates were manufactured at the Utah State Prison in Draper, March 5, 2014. The Utah Legislature approved a bill Wednesday to alter how specialty plates are designated without a two-year moratorium on personalized plates.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

There won't be a pause on personalized plates in Utah after all.

The Utah House of Representatives voted 55-15 to approve an amended version of HB26 on Wednesday, one that doesn't include a two-year moratorium on the personalized license plate program. The bill still tweaks the process for new special group licenses, effectively ending bills that would establish new specialty plates in the future.

The Utah Senate approved the bill with a 26-0 vote earlier this week.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, introduced the bill in January after a similar bill he sponsored last year failed to clear the Legislature in time. The main purpose was legislation to end the specialty license plate bills that lawmakers sift through every year. It grants the Utah Tax Commission's Utah Division of Motor Vehicles the ability to create new specialty plates through a designated process.

The change also makes it easier for Utahns to know where their money goes when they select a specialty plate.

The bill also allows counties to "exempt a motor vehicle from an emissions inspection under certain circumstances," such as a vintage vehicle that doesn't have vintage plates. A vehicle must travel less than 1,500 miles annually to qualify for this provision. It's intended for collector's vehicles or vehicles displayed at exhibitions or parades.

But the bill included language that would call on Utah to stop issuing new personalized license plates, or vanity plates, for at least two years. Thurston explained that he believed there was a "reasonable chance" the state would get sued because the program's criteria for what is and isn't considered offensive personalized plate is about as "vague" as other states that have been sued over the matter.

The bill, with the moratorium included, cleared the House with a 53-18 vote in January.

But that portion of the bill received blowback. Chris Colwell, of Saratoga Springs, created a social media account called Utahns for Custom Plates, pushing back against the provision in the law. He told KSL.com last month that he believed that it would be a "slippery slope" that could end in a more permanent ban in the future.

"I think most people would not care to see vulgar things on license plates but I feel like punishing the entire population to keep us from a minute chance of seeing (a lawsuit) is not a good choice," he said.

The Utah Senate ultimately never weighed in on the debate.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and the chair of the Senate Business and Labor Committee, submitted an amended version of the bill, which was adopted before the discussion of the bill on Feb. 15. Thurston agreed to the changes, telling the members of the House that the Senate had issues with the language and that he was "fine" with the amendment before Wednesday's final vote.

The final substitution also clarifies that any specialty plates previously approved by the Utah Legislature will be grandfathered in as acceptable specialty plates.

Once signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, the bill would take effect at the start of 2024.