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Utah Senate approves bill to tighten restrictions on personalized license plates

Move comes after controversy over DEPORTM plate

In God We Trust license plate.

SALT LAKE CITY — State senators Wednesday approved tighter rules on what can be requested for a personalized license plate.

SB97 passed 20-7 and will now go before the House.

Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said her legislation would expand restrictions by adding a provision saying requests should also be denied when they disparage a group based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, or physical or mental disability.

Current law dictates that plate requests can be denied if they carry connotations that are offensive to “good taste and decency or that would be misleading.” More specifically, the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles website prohibits requests that reference drugs; are sexual, vulgar or derogatory in nature; suggest ideas dangerous to public welfare; or disrespect “race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage, gender or political affiliation.”

Her bill is in response to the Utah State Tax Commission, which oversees plate approval, coming to the Legislature for more structure to make “those very subjective” decisions, Escamilla said

“As you can imagine people get pretty creative and that has caused some controversial stuff that we are dealing with on a national level now, because some of them have been pretty derogatory,” Escamilla said, referencing a plate reading DEPORTM that made national news after a photo of it was posted to Twitter.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R- Taylorsville, suggested ending the personalized plate practice beginning July 1.

“If this is a big issue we ought to debate it and see if we ought to keep them or not,” he said.

Escamilla said she had discussed at one point ending the program, but thought otherwise.

“I noticed in our parking lot this morning a lot of us in this body have personalized vanity license plates,” Escamilla said. “It seems like we will be the only state in the union that will not have access to some sort of vanity license plate, so I oppose this. I don’t think this is what the community and our constituents want.”

She said it might be a good idea for interim committee, but in the meantime the Legislature should address what the Tax Commission came forward about, and should work to provide it with more guidance for its approval process.