Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Contact: Kristen Schulze Muszynski

Secretary Bellows supports bills that would limit obscene vanity plate language

AUGUSTA — Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is supporting several bills now pending in the Legislature that would clarify standards for vanity license plates to prohibit language that is obscene or contains racial or other epithets.

It’s not safe for parents or grandparents to play the license plate game with their kids in Maine anymore. You can’t escape the proliferation of the f-word and worse,” said Secretary Bellows. “Our office regularly receives complaints from motorists who are appalled to see these messages displayed on state-issued license plates, and I agree with their concerns.

Secretary Bellows supports the three vanity plate bills currently pending – LD 130 , LD200 and LD 289 – all of which propose allowing the Secretary to remove offensive or obscene plates from use on Maine’s roadways and deny future requests.

Vanity plate language is governed by Maine’s motor vehicle law , which was changed in 2015 to allow the Secretary of State to reject only messages that suggest an association with a public institution, are duplicative, or “encourage violence or may result in an act of violence or other unlawful activity.”

The First Amendment protects your right to have any bumper sticker you want, but it doesn’t force the state to issue you a registration plate that subjects every child in your neighborhood to a message the government wouldn’t allow them to see in a movie theater,” said Secretary Bellows. 

Prior to 2015, Maine law did allow the Secretary of State to also reject vanity plates that sought to use language with “obscene, contemptuous, profane or prejudicial” messages.  The legislation currently pending would restore the Secretary’s discretion to deny such vanity plate requests.