Anti-abortion activists scored another victory today in the Texas House.
The House tentatively passed a bill creating “Choose Life” license plates with a 94-29 vote. Now you too can wear your politics on the bumper of your car while helping to fund unlicensed “crisis pregnancy centers.”
The money generated from these plates would go to a specific fund dedicated to supporting organizations that promote adoption, including pregnancy centers that try to talk women out of an abortion.
Lawmakers are fond of specialty license plates but never has one been this controversial and politicized. “Choose Life” plates are different in another significant way: They might be the only specialty plates that actually go to fully fund their intended purpose.
Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, who sponsored the Senate Bill 257 in the House along with more than 90 co-authors, was unrelenting when it came to accepting any amendments to the bill, arguing that he wanted to “keep it clean” and send it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk as soon as possible.
“We’ve tried for many sessions” to get the bill passed,” Phillips said. “I’m not going to take a chance on not getting it through.”
House Democrats argued the bill was “sloppy” but were shot down repeatedly when they tried to clean it up. Several amendments tried to redirect Choose Life plate money from crisis pregnancy centers to licensed maternity homes or early childhood intervention programs, which got slashed in the House version of the budget.
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, even tried to change the plates from reading “Choose Life” to “Choose Adoption,” She also argued that the “Choose Life” slogan sends a political message and insisted that the bill should include the opposite pro-choice message as well.
“This bill is seriously flawed,” she said.
Phillips’ bill also directs the Attorney General to create a special “advisory committee” to distribute the funds to eligible organizations. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, tried to keep lobbyists with special interests and political agendas from sitting on the committee, but Phillips quickly shot down his efforts as well.
Similar specialty license plates are popular among Texans. State agencies sells various plates that promote uncontroversial, worthwhile causes like cancer research, state parks, advocates for abused children, and many more. But while taxpayers are promised that that money will support a specific cause, those pots of money – called general revenue-dedicated funds – have no protection against being raided later by legislators to help certify a budget shortfall. In fact, the House budget includes a rider that takes half of most license plate funds to help fill the $27 billion hole. In other words, half your money goes to your cause; the other half to balance the budget.
The Choose Life license plate fund is different. Unlike the other license plates, a special rider in the House budget actually keeps any future lawmaker from touching the money raised from Choose Life plates.
At one point in the debate, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, asked a relevant question.
“What pot of money are you trying to protect?” he shot at Phillips.
Phillips, it seems, is protecting a fund that funnels money to unregulated pregnancy centers, which have been found to distribute misinformation and coerce women into giving birth. (Also, House Republicans diverted some of the state’s family planning dollars to crisis pregnancy centers during the budget debate last month).