Nebraska’s new “Choose Life” license plate design, which generated controversy in the last state legislative session, was unveiled Monday in Omaha.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and State Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, plus representatives from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Students for Life, Bethlehem House and other groups, gathered at the Bethlehem House for the announcement.
Starting Jan. 1, the specialty plate will be made available for an extra $5 as an alternative to the state’s standard license plate. Some money from plate sales will go to a federal program for the poor: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“We’re very proud of this plate,” Ricketts said at the Monday ceremony. “It’s indicative of how we treat people in Nebraska.”
The plate, designed by Lincoln graphic designer Shelley Novosad, shows a mother and a child admiring a colorful Nebraska sunrise with “Choose Life” at the bottom of the plate.
“It symbolizes that you’re not alone,” Ricketts said. “And it says Nebraska is a pro-life state.”
The governor praised Watermeier’s efforts at shepherding the bill that created the plate through the Legislature, including getting it past six filibusters.
“Every community in Nebraska has an obligation to choose life,” Watermeier said. “The plates offer a glimmer of hope.”
Bethlehem House, near 15th and Martha Streets, provides housing for pregnant women in crisis. The center is supported by private donations.
In response to the new plates, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is gathering orders for a “My Body, My Choice” license plate. As of mid-November, the organization reported it had gotten 220 pre-orders toward the 250 needed to get an organizational plate. The cost of an organizational plate is $70, compared to the $5 fee for the “Choose Life” plates.
During this year’s legislative session, State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said the “Choose Life” plates represent state support of a particular political viewpoint.
“This plate I’m opposed to because it chooses sides on a very contentious issue and it puts the state behind it,” he said.
Other senators warned that the bill could open the door to other political views on license plates, either through future legislation or by groups gathering 250 paid applications for new plate designs.
“Where do we draw the line? Where do we say, ‘No, this is too controversial’?” asked Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, arguing that plates would do little to stop abortions. “This is not about choosing life. This is about a darn license plate.”
Watermeier argued at the time that he didn’t think the plates represent a wedge issue, although they do take sides in the debate over abortion rights. He said drivers have a choice whether to put the plates on their vehicles.
Nebraska drivers will have another new license plate option available Jan. 1 — the Native American Cultural Awareness and History plate. The design of the Native American plates has not been unveiled yet.
World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.