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Maine Rejects All Appeals in Vanity Plate Crackdown

State decided 'LUVTOFU' could have double meaning
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 10, 2023 1:14 PM CST
Tofu-Loving Driver Loses License Plate Fight in Maine
Peter Starostecki and his kids Sadie, center, and Jo Jo, pose behind their car with the vanity license plate that the state of Maine has deemed appropriate, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

A Maine vegan whose custom license plate contains the word "tofu" is one of the motorists caught in a state crackdown on vulgar tags. Car owners across the United States can pay an extra fee to customize license plates, sparking creativity and personality but causing headaches for state officials who have to decide what’s acceptable. Maine had for several years allowed people to put just about any combination of letters and numbers on their vehicle plates, including words and phrases that other states would ban. But the state decided to change course and this year recalled 274 plates it deemed inappropriate. Some people are fighting back. So far the state has rejected all of the appeals, including one brought by the vegan whose license plate referenced tofu, the AP reports.

The state concluded the license plate "LUVTOFU" could’ve been seen as a reference to sex instead of admiration for bean curd. The motorist insisted there was no mistaking his intent because the back of his car had several tofu-related stickers. "It’s my protest against eating meat and animal products," Peter Starostecki, the disappointed motorist, said after a Zoom session with a hearing examiner for the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. When the state effectively ended the review process for so-called vanity license plates in 2015, some residents filled their plates with all manner of profanities, including F-bombs, either spelled out or abbreviated.

After license plate freedoms spiraled out of control, the Maine Legislature directed the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to reestablish a system for vetting the state’s roughly 120,000 vanity license plates. The new rules ban derogatory references to age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability. Also banned is language that incites violence, or is considered obscene. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said motorists have the freedom to express themselves, but she said that they should do it on a bumper sticker, not a state-issued license plate. As for Starostecki, he was offered another license plate that had become available, V3GAN. But he decided he was done with vanity plates. He’s awaiting a new license plate—a boring one randomly selected by the state.

(More Maine stories.)

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