SALT LAKE CITY — A portion of a bill being presented in the Utah State Legislature would put a temporary moratorium on the issuance of personalized license plates.
House Bill 368 is sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston (R-Provo), and if it becomes law, the state would stop accepting applications for personalized license plates on July 1, 2022.
While presenting the bill to the House Transportation Committee, Thurston explained the moratorium is necessary to avoid future lawsuits.
Currently, the state can reject an application for a personalized plate if it includes offensive or racist language.
Thurston pointed to examples from other states where courts have ruled that rejecting someone’s personalized license plate is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“Our attorney tells us we are ripe to be sued for denying a plate,” Rep. Thurston said. “Somebody is going to ask for, ‘P B4 We Go.’ We are going to say, ‘no.’ They are going to sue us in federal court and they are going to win.”
Some members of the committee asked if pausing the program for all Utah drivers is fair.
“What if you’re Bob and you turn 16 and you got your car and want your license plate to be, ‘Bob 50,’ now you can’t,” said Rep. Mike Winder (R-West Valley City).
Thurston argued the alternative would be to approve all applications for personalized plates — a method the state of Maine recently attempted.
“They got the n-word, the z-word, the s-word,” he said. “They got all those words on license plates.”
A temporary moratorium would allow the legislature to revisit the issue each year as court cases in other states are decided. Thurston admitted it is possible the personalized plate program could eventually be eliminated entirely.
“I went back and forth,” said Thurston. “I was sort of on the camp of just allow everything. Then I thought, `I don't want someone driving around with Utah plates that have those words on it.’”
The bill passed through the committee with a favorable recommendation and now heads to the House floor for discussion.
The law would not impact drivers who currently have personalized license plates.