Nevada could soon see ‘Values Life’ specialty license plate
November 30, 2015
Motorists could soon buy specialty license plates proclaiming "Nevada Values Life," although state officials and Planned Parenthood have warned of possible lawsuits because of the overtly Christian anti-abortion charity that will receive a portion of the proceeds.
A panel of lawmakers voted last month to approve the proposed specialty license plate, which is expected to feature a baby's face along with the "Values Life" text. Proceeds will benefit Women's Resource Medical Centers of Southern Nevada, which offers counseling to women with an unexpected pregnancy, STD testing, pregnancy testing and baby supplies, with the goal of dissuading women from abortion.
"Our mission is basically to love on people in the circumstance they're in," said Esther Caruso Golleher, CEO of the 30-year-old group, which is developing the license plates as a way to diversify its income stream.
State lawyer Matthew Mundy warned that similar "Choose Life" plates in other states have attracted lawsuits, although he said he thinks the Nevada proposal is in the clear because the license plate design, on its face, isn't promoting religion. He noted that organizations receiving funds through the sale of license plates can have a religious viewpoint, even if the plates are banned from expressing one.
He also noted that a recent court ruling framed license plate text as government speech — a category that is more restricted than private speech.
Elisa Cafferata of Planned Parenthood said the proposal could raise questions about the separation of church and state, even though she said pursuing lawsuits on the topic was not part of her group's mission. While motorists pay a premium for specialty license plates, and it's the money that exceeds the manufacturing costs that ultimately benefits the charity, she noted that state funds are used in the overall administration of the license plate program and are indirectly helping the Christian group.
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Cafferata also said she worried that clients at the resource center could face discrimination based on religion, and pointed out that the group's anti-discrimination statement doesn't include the word "religion." Caruso Golleher countered that the center doesn't discriminate toward clients — a policy expressed in the statement by the word "creed" and not "religion."
The Department of Motor Vehicles said it's consulting with lawyers about Planned Parenthood's concerns, but otherwise will move toward the design phase, according to spokesman Kevin Malone.
The process involves choosing a legible font, fine-tuning the artwork and then testing a mock-up of the plate for visibility. Once that's finished, the resource center will ask supporters to buy the plate, and must maintain at least 3,000 active registrations each year to keep it in the lineup.
Caruso Golleher said a survey of supporters found demand for 3,194 plates.
Nevada has dozens of specialty plate designs benefiting charities ranging from wild horse protection societies to state universities, breast cancer screening initiatives and organ donation awareness. Plates typically cost $62 the first year and send $25 to the charity behind it, then cost $30 for renewal each subsequent year with $20 going to the charity.
Nevada only allows a limited number of plate designs. Some proposed designs are in a queue and won't go into production until other designs fail to meet their minimum-buyer threshold.
Malone said the Values Life plate won't have to wait for an opening slot because supporters are paying a large surety bond up-front and fast-tracking the process. But he said there's no solid date for when the plates will be ready for purchase.