Legislators debated in a committee meeting Tuesday whether a pro-life organization should be allowed to sell specialized Wisconsin license plates to raise money to fund pregnancy resource centers.
Choose Life Wisconsin, Inc., a nonprofit organization that advocates alternatives to abortion, would be allowed to sell $40 license plates saying “Choose Life” to private citizens should the bill pass through the Assembly Committee on Transportation.
According to the bill, the plates would cost $15 each for production with an additional $25 going directly to fund Choose Life pregnancy care centers across the state.
Choose Life Wisconsin President Julaine Appling said her organization does not want to burden taxpayers with the cost of production, so the organization is prepared to pay the production costs to the Department of Transportation up front, which she estimated would be between $9,000 and $11,000.
Two Democratic committee members, Rep. Penny Bernard-Schaber, D-Appleton, and Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said they were concerned about the organization’s tax-exempt status.
The IRS assumes the organization is tax-exempt pending notification of their application, which has been submitted, Appling said.
She added the organization is working with attorneys to ensure the application is done properly and will avoid the possibility of taxpayer dollars to be used in production or to fund the organization.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said the money to pay for the plate would be funneled into segregated funds to pay for production and the other money would that goes to Choose Life Wisconsin would be “pass-through dollars” and would not include taxpayer money.
The plates are not intended to be political but would be an expression of the views of private Wisconsin citizens, Appling said, who is also the president of Wisconsin Family Action, an organization that engages in political activity to promote politicians who value traditional marriage and pro-life values.
Danou said the plate would be political even though funds from the plate would go to Choose Life pregnancy care centers across the state, not political activity.
“This is clearly a political statement,” Danou said. “For you to try to tell me it’s not is to be disingenuous at best. At worst, you’re not being honest.”
Many citizens and volunteers involved in the organization have shown interest in the plates and said they are excited about the legislation and the support it would provide to pregnancy care centers, Matt Sande, vice president of Choose Life Wisconsin and director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin, said.
Danou said he was also concerned because the leadership of Choose Life Wisconsin is affiliated with political organizations like Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin, as Sande and Appling are.
Having Wisconsin plates with the message “Choose Life” could imply the state endorses the partisan beliefs promoted by WFA and Pro-Life Wisconsin, Danou said.
“You’re choosing to put a divisive political issue on a state-issued license plate,” Danou said. “Is this really the direction we want to go in this state? “I’m mystified that this is something we want to do. We’ve seen enough division in this state already, to put something divisive on a state issued plate is in, quite frankly, bad taste.”
The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.