Snyder vetoes ‘Choose Life’ license plate

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday vetoed a proposal to create a “Choose Life” fundraising license plate in Michigan, saying it would be inappropriate for the state to endorse a “political message” that could divide residents.

The specialty plate would have raised money for “life-affirming programs and projects” endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, a prominent anti-abortion group.

The GOP-led Legislature approved the bill this spring, and sponsor Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, called the governor’s veto “utterly disgraceful.”

In a letter to legislators explaining the veto, Snyder said he thought the plate carried a political message he feared could “bitterly divide millions of Michiganders.”

“And that, in my view, is not appropriate for a state-issued license plate,” he wrote.

Colbeck denied the license plate carried a political message despite its link to the controversial abortion issue, arguing life is a fundamental right that extends beyond that specific debate. He also disputed the governor’s suggestion it would be divisive.

“The only way that holds any credence as a divisive message is if you somehow believe ‘Choose Death’ is a viable message — and it’s not,” Colbeck told The Detroit News.

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

The Michigan plate would have cost $35, including a standard $10 fee, and proceeds would have been placed into a Choose Michigan Life Fund governed by Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing and others.

“We hoped (Snyder) would recognize this wonderful opportunity to provide care to pregnant women in need and help suicide prevention efforts,” Listing said in a Friday statement. “The support for the Choose Life plate is still there and it will happen in Michigan, it’s just a matter of time. We look forward to taking the issue up with our next governor.”

Colbeck, who announced this month he is running for governor, questioned whether there was any personal motivation behind the veto by Snyder, who cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Midland Republican who may also run for governor in 2018, also said he was disappointed by Snyder’s veto. Another potential candidate, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland, supported the license plate legislation but respects Snyder’s decision, said spokeswoman Laura Biehl.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan testified against the proposed license plate in committee, arguing it would amount to “viewpoint discrimination” because it would only give voice to one side of a political debate.

“Women’s health care shouldn’t be a political issue,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan said in a statement after Snyder’s veto, suggesting “our opponents have unfortunately attempted to make it one.”

Snyder “did the right thing” by rejecting the legislation, said Shelli Weisberg with the ACLU of Michigan.

“We don’t think the state should really create that type of forum for controversial, one-sided political speech, and that’s what this would have been,” she said. “If you’re going to open that forum, you have to do it widely.”

It’s not the first time Snyder has clashed with the anti-abortion lobby. The governor, who says he is personally opposed to abortion except in cases of rape, in 2012 vetoed legislation to restrict insurance coverage for the procedure.

Right to Life of Michigan responded to that veto by launching a petition drive to advance the abortion insurance legislation, a maneuver that allowed the Republican-led Legislature to approve and enact the measure without the governor’s signature in 2013.

Colbeck said there are not enough votes in the House to pursue a similar path this time around. The lower chamber approved the bill in a 65-43 vote, but a two-thirds majority would be required to overturn the veto or bypass Snyder through a petition drive.

Supporters argued the fundraising plate would have benefited women who have babies through unplanned pregnancies, supporting services like crisis pregnancy centers, homes for pregnant women, outreach to at-risk populations and campaigns to promote adoption and suicide prevention.

“These are noble causes; but having a private fund making funding decisions is a concern,” Snyder said in his veto letter.

The legislation “is not about a license plate; it’s about the State of Michigan making a political statement. And that statement arouses strong emotional reaction that divides residents of this state,” he wrote.

Michigan offers 29 specialty license plates that help raise money for public universities, the Boy Scouts of America, breast cancer awareness, military veterans and other causes. The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office said there were 228,571 specialty fundraising plates on the road as of late May, a figure that includes motorcycle versions.

Fundraising License Plates available in Michigan

University plates

Central Michigan University

Eastern University

Ferris State University

Grand Valley State University

Lake Superior State University

Michigan State University

Michigan Technological University

Northern Michigan University

Oakland University

Saginaw Valley State University

University of Michigan

University of Michigan-Dearborn

University of Michigan-Flint

Wayne State University

Western Michigan University

Michigan’s special cause plates

Be The Match

Agricultural Heritage

Boy Scouts of America

Breast Cancer Awareness

Children's Trust Fund

Donate Life

Ducks Unlimited

Lighthouse Preservation

Olympic Education


Support Michigan Veterans

Veteran's Memorial

Water Quality

Wildlife Habitat