Personalized license plates cause controversy, questions in New Mexico and Arizona

Aug 31, 2012, 6:35 AM | Updated: 6:35 am

PHOENIX – You see them all over town. Personalized license plates that spell out things like “DBacks fan” or “I Love so and so.”

One personalized plate is causing controversy in New Mexico, and an Arizona man can somewhat relate to what that car’s owner is going through.

Robert Anaya of Santa Fe, New Mexico has had the same personalized license plate for years. It reads “I-B-6-U-B-9.” He says it’s an inside joke with a friend about a roulette game at a casino. But the state of New Mexico says it’s received several complaints about the plate, and has revoked it for being obscene.

“Mr. Anaya feels bullied by the MVD,” Leon Howard, Anaya’s attorney said. Howard told KOAT-TV that according to the law, the license plate isn’t obscene.

“It has to be intolerable (for the plate to be obscene),” Howard said. He claims that the plate would only be intolerable if it used crude words. Howard argued that if the license plate is obscene, then how can the numbers 6 and 9 be used in things like prices or telephone numbers?

Anaya isn’t the only one who has had his personalized plate challenged. A man here in Phoenix has as well.

“I actually kind of thought it was almost so comical that it was kind of like a badge of courage. Hey, look at me! I wasn’t trying to be bad, but look! I’m up for the advisory board!” KTAR employee Ryan Lindsey said.

Lindsey is a proud graduate of Washington State University, home of the Cougars. His wife thought it would be a great idea for him to have a personalized plate with that word…Cougars.

“We found one that was available. It was C-O-U-G-E-R-Z,” Lindsey said. “We submitted it online. Probably about a week later, we got a letter from the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles that they had to review it with the Advisory Committee because they deemed it could be offensive. That’s because of the latest slang term used now for older single women, cougars, who are going after younger single men, especially in Scottsdale.”

One look at Lindsey’s car, complete with his Washington State decal on the back, tells you that the license plate is about his alma mater.

“A month later, we got the license plate,” Lindsey said. “But the fact that it went to an Advisory board because of that (the word C-O-U-G-E-R-Z) is kind of funny and comical.”

Harold Sanders is with the Arizona Department of Transportation, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division in Arizona. He said the M-V-D has to follow the law when considering a personalized plate request.

“When someone submits a request for a personalized plate, we have to review and insure that the configuration of letters and numbers do not carry a connotation that is offensive or inappropriate,” Sanders said. He said it’s helpful if people submit an explanation about their license plate along with their request. You can file an appeal if your license plate request is rejected.

Meanwhile, Howard says his client’s free speech rights are being violated, and that’s dangerous.

“When you allow the government to start chipping away at our constitutional rights, it can have more serious implications in the future,” Howard said.

KOAT-TV reports that Anaya is using a generic plate sent to him by the state of New Mexico, but is still fighting to get his personalized plate back.

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Personalized license plates cause controversy, questions in New Mexico and Arizona