Ga Prestige Plates Raise Free Speech Concerns

7:39 PM, Jan 11, 2013   |    comments
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Georgia's new license plate design as unveiled at the State Capitol

ATLANTA---Along the Interstates thousands of cars come and go 24 hours a day, and that translates to thousands of license plates. Most of them are set up by computer, but what happens if you want a license plate that you pick yourself?

They call them "Prestige Plates" and for more than 40 years, the Georgia Revenue Commissioner and his staff have decided what can and cannot be used.

It's all in a Georgia statute.

It says that the Revenue Commissioner is authorized to establish procedures and rules to pick the names for the Prestige plates.

We scanned more than 10,000 name requests from car owners who each paid a $35-fee for a shot at a Prestige tag.

Want to use Beer, that's no good, but if you want to use Sixpak, that one is okay.
Love your favorite Raccoon or Capon--well it cannot be on your license plate,

But if you want to honor your Cheetah-that's okay.

Try Iceman, that's not allowed, but Savages is fine.
Specifically out are words or phrases that are obscene or use profane language; defame or ridicule; or can incite violence.

But what about all the names and phrases in-between.

Does the Statute shut down free speech?

Thomas Salata, an Atlanta attorney thinks it does.

"I think it is an illegal restraint upon free speech the way the statute is written that allows the Commissioner to make arbitrary decisions as to what Prestige license plates are approved and which are not approved," Salata said.

Although similar statutes have been challenged in North Carolina and Virginia, Georgia has been quiet.

Nobody in Georgia has filed suit to challenge it. That's the interesting thing about it," Salata added.

"It will stay until the Legislature changes it or someone challenges the constitutionality of the Statute in a Court of Law," he said.

Until that happens, don't look for any political or religious messages, or Prestige plates that say FBI or Mafia.

But car owners should keep trying, last year the State made more than $2-million on your giving it a try.



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