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South Dakota Legislators Save Vanity Plates
South Dakota state Senate committee rejects a measure that would have banned vanity license plates.

Deb Hillmer
A South Dakota state Senate panel decided Tuesday to save personalized license plates from a state official's attempt to ban them. With a 6 to 1 vote, the Committee on Transportation shelved Senate Bill 20 which had been introduced on behalf of Division of Motor Vehicles Director Debra Hillmer. The measure would have repealed the statutes authorizing personalized plates that have been on the books for thirty years.

Hillmer's offensive against vanity plates took new urgency last year after Toyota Prius-driving motorist Heather Morijah decided to show off her political views regarding President George W Bush with the license plate: MPEACHW. After receiving a complaint, the motor vehicles division insisted in April on recalling the plate under a statute allowing the rejection of plates that are not in "good taste." Hillmer quickly retreated after the American Civil Liberties Union intervened and cited a federal court case that found refusal to renew a license plate on grounds of public policy disagreement was unconstitutional.

"It occurs to us that a personalized plate is not so very different from a bumper sticker that expresses a social or political message," the the Eighth Circuit US Court of Appeals wrote in the 2001 decision, Lewis v Wilson. "We reject [the department's] attempt to censor Ms. Lewis's speech because of the potential responses of its recipients. The first amendment knows no heckler's veto."

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