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Friday, July 25, 2014

A license to govern should be priority

Saturday, February 23, 2008

As with any elected body, the Missouri General Assembly gets its fair share of criticism. In a touch of irony, the legislature is blamed by some for what they do and by others for what they fail to do. But then again, this should come as no surprise.

I visited my first session of the Missouri General Assembly in 1972 and have been privileged to return to those hallowed halls on several occasions. I have come away from those sessions proud on some occasions and disappointed on others. But overall, our elected representatives do their best to serve their communities at the same time they serve the larger interest of the state.

Having said that, I am frustrated that our lawmakers spend an inordinate amount of time on issues that have nothing to do with moving the state agenda forward. I'm not talking about the useless waste of time to name a state insect or a state plant. I'm talking about the discussion on what Missourians can display on their license plates. More specifically, I'm frustrated over the time spent on the discussion of special vanity plates that are available in Missouri. These plates give Missourians an opportunity to: 1, be funny, 2. display their ego or 3. publicly advocate in favor of some special interest. It costs Missourians a few bucks to acquire their special vanity plates and, for the most part, it's not a major issue in the minds of Missourians. It should not be for lawmakers either.

But as with all things involving government, few policies are implemented without some glitch in the system. And that's exactly what has happened on the vanity plate front.

About four years ago, lawmakers grew weary of being barraged with requests for special vanity plates. The process was consuming valuable time and energy. So lawmakers turned the decision on these plates over to the Department of Revenue as an administrative decision. But lawmakers retained the right to reject some controversial requests for vanity plates. And then came the request for a special vanity plate that read "Choose Life." Some lawmakers complained that the plate might spark too much controversy given the heated debate over abortion. So that decision against allowing the "Choose Life" plate was taken to a federal court. That court ruled that the state should issue the special plate. The court said the law governing special vanity plates was vague and failed to protect constitutional free speech rights.

So now lawmakers want to return control of decision on these plates back to the House and Senate. In other words, we're back to square one.

Here's the proverbial bottom line. Is it so important what people display on their license plates that it requires the consideration of the highest legislative body in the state of Missouri? Why, pray tell, are we wasting the time and energy to discuss an issue as petty as what motorists want displayed on their license plate? Like most of you I assume, I would find objection to an obscene word on a license plate. Granted, I may even find it humorous but I don't want children subjected to some language that is patently offensive to everyone. But outside of that one objection, if someone wants to display their political preferences on a license plate, who really cares? But more importantly, why should the General Assembly and the federal courts be drug into this wasteful process?

Attention lawmakers: Help us with our education, help us with our health insurance, help us maintain safe roads and public safety. But please don't waste any more time discussing what someone wants to display on a license plate.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen