The state officials who authorize personalized license plates in Utah have in recent years banned such requests as "3MERL0T" "4TWENTY" and "DA^NUTZ."
But the license plate “DEPORTM” apparently passed muster. Now the Utah Tax Commission is considering recalling the license plate after complaints this week on social media.
"We're not sure how it got through," said Tammy Kikuchi, spokeswoman for the commission, which oversees the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles. "We're really quite surprised."
The plate was approved in 2015, Kikuchi confirmed. Now officials are reviewing the plate for compliance with provisions in state law that forbid vanity plates that “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that may be misleading” and express “contempt, ridicule or superiority of a race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage or political affiliation.”
"I don't know why it was approved in 2015," she said, adding: "The current DMV director was not the director then."
The DMV also forbids license plates that
- Are vulgar, derogatory, profane, or obscene.
- Make reference to drugs or drug paraphernalia.
- Make reference to sexual acts, genitalia, or bodily functions.
- Express or suggest endangerment to the public welfare.
A list of more than 1,500 denied plates from the past five years, provided Friday by the commission, shows an array of potential reasons for refusal. Some — “MURDA,” “PECKER1,” “KKKADEN” — leave little room for nuance within the guidelines. For others, — like “AUR0RA,” “MAGICC,” “SIEMPRE” — it’s not clear what guideline the request violated, though applicants also are denied if the plate duplicates a previously issued plate.
Salt Lake City resident Matt Pacenza posted an image of the plate on Twitter on Thursday after he noticed it on a car traveling near Trolley Square.
“It jumped out at me because of how aggressive and confrontational and political the message was," Pacenza said. "I’m used to personalized plates being whimsical or playful or personal: GOUTES or DOGMAMA or SKILOVE or something. This felt significantly different.”
State lawmakers took notice as word of the plate circulated on social media.
“A private citizen has a first amendment right to say offensive things,” Utah Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) tweeted. “The State does not, and has rules about license plates. I believe those rules have been violated here. Hopefully Tax Commission agrees.”
State Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City) said that lawmakers would be reviewing rules for personalized plates.
“This issue will be discussed in the next Admininstrative Rules Review committee,” she tweeted.