Erwin to propose I Believe license plate

Published 6:05 pm Friday, June 13, 2008

MONTGOMERY – A Republican state senator said Friday he plans to introduce a bill to create a faith-proclaiming “I Believe” license plate in Alabama similar to one approved recently by South Carolina lawmakers.

“It would send a message that the government in Alabama believes in faith and family,” Sen. Hank Erwin of Montevallo said.

The South Carolina Legislature passed a bill last month to create an “I Believe” license plate with the image of a cross and a stained glass window. Gov. Mark Sanford allowed the bill to become law without his signature. A similar proposal in the Florida Legislature failed last month.

The American Jewish Congress and other groups are considering challenging the South Carolina law in court.

“We would be as likely to challenge it in Alabama as we would in South Carolina,” said Marc Stern, general counsel for the New York-based congress.

Stern said the Legislature would be showing a preference for one religion. Some legislators are inclined to vote for an “I Believe” tag because it allows them to cast a vote in favor of Christianity, he said.

Alabama currently has two basic car tags. During the last fiscal year, motorists purchased about 1 million tags saying “God Bless America” and 2.6 million tags saying “Stars Fell on Alabama,” said Carla Snellgrove, spokeswoman for the state Revenue Department.

Erwin predicted an “I Believe” license plate would sell well in Alabama because the state has about 1 million Southern Baptists and large numbers of other Christian denominations.

It’s uncertain when Erwin will be able to introduce his proposal. The Legislature’s next regular session starts in February, but Gov. Bob Riley has told legislators he might call a special session this summer.

In Alabama, there are two ways to create a specialty tag. The fastest way is through the Legislature, like Erwin is proposing.

The other is for a group to go to the Revenue Department and the Legislative License Plate Oversight Committee for approval of a tag design. Once approved, the group must get orders for 1,000 tags before the state will begin production. That approach can take a year or more.

That is the approach abortion opponents used to create Alabama’s “Choose Life” tag in 2002, and it did not result in any lawsuits.

Stern said he doesn’t have a problem with that method because it is open to any group that can sell enough tags.

The Revenue Department spokeswoman and members of the License Plate Oversight Committee said Friday no one has approached the department or the committee about trying to get approval for an “I Believe” tag.