Many thanks to our intern Amber for pulling this all together!
According to the House of Delegates, “Trust Women: Respect Choice” license plates can no longer fund pregnancy prevention or breast and cervical cancer screenings! That’s because the House of Delegates switched the funding stream from these license plates from Planned Parenthood to an unused and empty government regulated fund called the “Pregnant Woman Support Fund.”
The anti-choice majority in the House introduced an amendment to the license plate bill that changes the recipient of the funding—something that the Virginia General Assembly has NEVER done before for any other license plate bill! And they did it after more than 400 Virginians had already purchased the license plate, earmarking their own money to support Planned Parenthood through this funding stream.
Luckily the Senate showed more sense and passed the license plate bill as-is, and as we enter crossover, there is still a chance that the final bill will not include the House amendment.
Confused about how all of this happens? We’ve put together some information to help! First, a timeline of the bill and its future prospects. Below that we’ve included information as to why this amendment is so harmful and about the legal precedent that could lead to a lawsuit if the bill is not passed.
Timeline: How a Pro-Choice License Plate Bill Becomes a Law
The bill is referred to a committee. In both the House and Senate, the bill was referred to the Transportation Committee. Within the committees, the bill is referred into a Subcommittee.
In the Senate, the bill is included in a license plate omnibus that includes other plates (the other plates include an ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Free School Lunches’ plate). The bill passes through Subcommittee as-is and returns to the full Transportation Committee. The Senate Transportation Committee passes the bill as-is and the bill will now be sent to the full Senate.
In the House, the bill stands alone (it is not connected to other special license plates). It is referred to subcommittee where a conversation about where the funding goes occurs, but no changes are made and it passes as-is through both the Subcommittee and the Transportation Committee.
The bill now goes to the full floor. In the Senate, the omnibus bill passes as-is.
To see how your representative voted, click here.
In the House, Delegate Gilbert introduces an unprecedented amendment to change the bill so that the ‘Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund’ receives the funding instead of Planned Parenthood, despite Planned Parenthood assuring the House that no money is to be used for abortion services. The amendment passes 56-33.
To see how your representative voted, click here.
The bill then passes the House with the amendment included. (See votes here.)
The bills crossover. This means that the Senate will hear the House Bill with the Amendment and the House will hear the Senate Bill without the Amendment.
The House and Senate are allowed to amend each others’ bills. This means the Senate can amend the House bill to restore funding to Planned Parenthood and the House can amend the Senate bill to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding.
Unless the House passes the Senate version of the bill without changes or the Senate passes the House version of the bill without changes, the bill goes to Conference. In Conference, they decide on a final bill based on the House and Senate versions.
The bill will be sent to the Governor, anti-choice Bob McDonnell, who may sign it into law or refuse to sign it into law, and who is allowed make any changes to the bill before signing it.
To overturn the Governor’s decision, 2/3 of the legislature (both House and Senate) must vote in favor.
So What’s the Problem with the Amendment?
The Virginia Legislature has NEVER changed the recipient of a license plate bill. The 400+ people who purchased the “Trust Women. Respect Choice.” License plate did so with the intent that the proceeds of the plates go to Planned Parenthood’s extensive preventative services. The House of Delegates doesn’t even support your right to choose where your own money goes!
When the “Choose Life” license plate was questioned, anti-choice lawmakers were quick to jump in and say that the money from the license plates is NOT state money, but private consumer money, and that State has no say in the fact that these plates fund anti-choice, medically inaccurate Crisis Pregnancy Centers. So, why is this plate different than any other? It is clearly a result of the anti-choice bias that these lawmakers have!
Legal Precedent: VA Legislature to Defy the U.S. Constitution?
Virginia is one of only a few states that require the legislature to approve specialty plates; most use a non-political entity (the DMV). This can open them up to a lawsuit when they offer plates supporting one viewpoint but not others.
Last year, the General Assembly passed the “Choose Life” license plates that fund crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia. If they refuse to pass the pro-choice plate, the ACLU of Virginia has vowed to file suit.
As ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said, “This is one time lawmakers need to set aside their views on reproductive rights and let the First Amendment be their guide. If they can do that, the pro-choice license plate will be easily approved. If not we’re undoubtedly headed to court.”
The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has heard similar cases before and has twice ruled that the government cannot unreasonably censor or favor one viewpoint on specialty plates because they are a public forum.
The issue has been heard on pro- and anti-choice plates before. In 2001, when the South Carolina legislature created a “Choose Life” plate but refused to create a pro-choice plate. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and won. The Supreme Court let the decision that it is an unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination for states to pick and choose which messages it lets stand.
If the legislator refuses to pass the bill, or if Governor McDonnell refuses to sign it into law, the state will likely be sued and, as precedent shows, will be found to be unconstitutional and forced to approve a pro-choice plate or end the anti-choice plates and their funding stream.
We’ll keep you updated on how this plays out! In the meantime, here is some reading material about the ongoing license plate debate: