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Michigan Senate votes for ‘Choose Life’ license plates

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Senate on Thursday approved plans to offer motorists a “Choose Life” license plate that would raise money for “life-affirming programs and projects” endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan.

Supporters say the fund-raising plate would benefit women who have babies through unplanned pregnancies, but Democrats argue the proposal amounts to state sponsorship for an organization with a political agenda to stop legal abortion.

“We’re not in the business of serving as a fund-raising vehicle for ideological groups,” state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, said before the bill passed in a 25-11 vote support from all but one Republican.

The proposed license plate should not be controversial, said sponsoring Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton.

“This is a message of love,” Colbeck said, “love of the baby in the womb and love for a mother facing an unplanned pregnancy, love for anyone struggling with the decision to take their own life, and love for a nation founded on the principle of government that says our laws are intended to protect the unalienable right to life.”

The legislation, now heading to the House for additional consideration, would require the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to develop and begin issuing the specialty plate by June. A plate would cost $35, including the standard $10 fee for a new plate.

The extra revenue would be set aside in a new fund, and disbursements would ultimately be decided by a nonprofit governed by Right to Life of Michigan.

The funding could be used by crisis pregnancy centers, homes for pregnant women and other support organizations. Potential projects include media campaigns and outreach to at-risk populations, along with campaigns to promote adoption and suicide prevention.

Michigan offers 29 specialty license plates that help raise money for public universities, the Boy Scouts of America, breast cancer awareness, military veterans and more.

The Senate on Thursday also approved new plates with professional sports team logos to raise cash for charitable foundations associated with the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions, Pistons and the Michigan International Speedway.

The “Choose Life” plate would “be the first and most politically blatant license plate we’ve ever had in our state,” said Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor. “…If reducing the rate of abortion is the intended goal of the bills… we should be focusing on improving access to birth control, family planning and affordable care.”

Right to Life of Michigan supported the bill in committee, but groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan testified against the proposed license plate.

The ACLU argued the Choose Life plate amounts to “viewpoint discrimination” because it would only give voice to one side of a political debate.

Democrats are welcome to introduce legislation for license plates to support groups like Planned Parenthood, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told reporters, but he said he wouldn’t vote for it.

The West Olive Republican said he has a very active Right to Life group in his community whose members have told him they want the option to purchase the plates.

“We have majorities,” he said of Republicans in Lansing, “and this is an organization we think has done great work in support of our families and young people in the womb, and we believe it is the right thing to do.”

The Senate approved similar legislation in 2015 but it did not see a vote in the Michigan House.

“Choose Life” license plates are allowed in 29 other states, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures.

joosting@detroitnews.com