Idahoans have long been able to express their viewpoints through vehicle registration, diverting from the standard scenic plates to more graphic representations of support for everything from Purple Heart recipients to potatoes to pets.
A new bill made its way out of committee Thursday that would give drivers another cause to champion: pro-life.
Senate Bill 1249 would amend Idaho Code to include “Choose Life” license plates along with a convoy of other topics deemed near and dear to Idaho hearts, such as wildlife preservation and white water rafting.
If passed, a portion of the “Choose Life” proceeds would go to Choose Life Idaho, Inc., a non-profit advocacy group that supports pro-life education.
The amendment states that the funds collected from the sale of the “Choose Life” plates “shall be used in Idaho to provide grant dollars to support life-affirming pregnancy resource centers in order to help pregnant women choose life for their babies and to encourage adoption as a positive choice for women with unplanned pregnancies.”
The legislation comes in concert with a bill brought forth by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, that would make abortions in Idaho illegal.
If passed, Idaho would become the 33rd state in the last 20 years to offer some version of a pro-life license plate.
After passing through the Senate Transportation Committee, the legislation goes to a full vote of the Senate. Local representatives Vito Barbieri, Ron Mendive, Tony Wisniewski and Sen. Don Cheatham are among the 28 co-sponsors of the bill. Sen. Regina Bayer of Meridian said she was optimistic of the bill’s chances.
“I think it sends a good message to the public, and I think it speaks to what Idaho is about,” Bayer said.
“This is a good bill,” Mendive agreed. “We’re a pro-life state, and this gives people an opportunity to show their pro-life beliefs. It doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. Quite the opposite, actually: We actually make a little money on this. It’s totally voluntary, and it gives people who want to choose life an opportunity to voice their beliefs in a positive way.”
A pro-life license plate wouldn’t be the first Idaho plate to take a political stance. A PAC-driven political license plate — signifying allegiance to the National Rifle Association — is available to Idaho drivers.
Fundamentally, personalized license plate pushes have been politically motivated. The Sawtooth plate — which features a mountain goat and benefits projects within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area — was pushed by lobby groups big and small with vested stakes in that south central region of the state.
An Idaho plate promoting the Corvette as “America’s Sports Car” spawned counter-movements from Mustang owners and political haymakers from General Motors.
Even the most obvious Idaho plate that boasted of our “Famous Potatoes” drew nationwide controversy in 1928, when the Gem State became the first to stamp any kind of slogan onto a license plate.
This newest plate was pushed by Choose Life Idaho, a political ally of Choose Life America, one of the country’s most prominent pro-life political action committees whose mission statement prioritizes financially supporting pro-life candidates, though the text of the bill clearly outlines that the proceeds would not be directed to candidates.
Lawmakers asked themselves if the state of Idaho wanted to be in the business of soliciting public money to support a political cause that drops neck-deep into the most passionate nationwide debate of the last half-century. It was a question Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise) said during the committee meeting he wasn’t completely comfortable answering.
“I want to make clear that we all understand what we’re doing here,” Winder said during the Transportation Committee meeting, “and that we do open the door for competitors to request their recognition on a license plate. Once that happens and we open this door, it will be impossible to close.”
Pro-life lobbyist Kerry Uhlenkott told the committee that she understood Winder’s concern, but that Idaho’s viewpoint supports the pro-life cause.
“We also believe Idaho is strongly pro-life,” she said. “We believe this positive message alone will have a tremendous educational value promoting the dignity of life, fatherhood and family.”
A February 7 version of this article incorrectly listed Choose Life Idaho as a political action committee. The organization is listed as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit advocacy group. The Press apologizes for the error.