Albany Update has previously reported that the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is working on new regulations that would reinstate its special license plate program.
In past years, the DMV allowed charitable groups to apply for the issuance of special license plates. Charities were provided with special license plates that included words and logos relating to their respective causes, and revenues from the issuance of those plates were shared between the charity and the State. The special license plate program—known as the “Take Your Pride for a Ride” program—was halted in 2004 following an ongoing dispute with the pro-life Children First Foundation over its attempt to obtain “Choose Life” license plates and use them to raise funds in support of adoption. The DMV rejected the Children First Foundation’s application twice, arguing that “Choose Life” license plates were controversial and could be offensive to some motorists. Unfortunately, a legal battle over the “Choose Life” license plates ended last year with a federal appeals court’s decision in the state’s favor.
The proposed regulations give the Commissioner of the DMV the authority to reject special license plates that he or she deems objectionable. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms is concerned that these regulations could be used to reject a future application for “Choose Life” license plates. Therefore, on July 18, 2016, NYCF wrote to the DMV and urged that the regulations be revised to set forth a clearer process for making decisions about special license plate applications, to require the Commissioner of the DMV to set forth a reason for rejecting a special license plate application, and to include a mechanism for appealing the rejection of a special license plate application. Our comments read as follows:
Dear Ms. Traschen:
Please accept this correspondence as a comment on the proposed amendments referenced above, which relate to special and reserved series license plates.
The proposed Section 16.5(b)(1) of Title 15 NYCRR provides that reserved series license plates “are issued by DMV in the sole discretion of the commissioner.” Furthermore, the proposed Section 16.5(b)(2) provides that “[r]eserved series [plates] bearing a message, image, or other mark that has a meaning, connotation, or format that the commissioner deems objectionable shall not be issued”; this section goes on to refer to the proposed Section 16.5(a)(2), which sets forth a non-exclusive list of characteristics of license plates that would be deemed objectionable.
The proposed regulatory language is problematic for the following reasons:
- The proposed regulations fail to set forth a process to be used by the Commissioner in making decisions regarding the acceptability of applications for reserved series license plates;
- The proposed regulations fail to require the Commissioner to state a reason for rejecting an application for reserved series license plates;
- The proposed regulations fail to set forth any internal procedure for reconsidering or appealing denials of applications for reserved series license plates; and
- The proposed regulations would give the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles unbridled discretion in accepting or rejecting applications for reserved series license plates. The recitation of a vague, non-exclusive list of “objectionable” characteristics does not provide an adequate safeguard against unchecked executive authority, or against potential viewpoint discrimination.
Based on the foregoing, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) respectfully urges the Department of Motor Vehicles to revise the above-referenced regulations.
Thank you for your consideration.
In His Service,
Rev. Jason J. McGuire
If the State of New York wishes to issue special license plates, it should ensure that the messages expressed on those license plates are not censored based upon politically correct considerations.