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State Likely To OK Alcohol-Related Vanity Plates

David Adams

On Friday, lawmakers will vote on a final rule governing what words New Hampshire drivers can have on their vanity license plates. While the Department of Safety’s interim rules did not allow drivers to receive vanity plates that refer to beer or other legal inebriants, the Department’s final recommendations reversed that decision, outlawing only illegal inebriants. 

It all started in 2010, when a man named David Montenegro requested a vanity license plate with the seven-character phrase, COPSLIE. The DMV denied the application, the case made its way to the state Supreme Court, and David Montenegro, who has since changed his name to “human,” won the case. 

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union argued in support of Montenegro. Attorney Gilles Bissonette recalls “one of the things the court said there was that the regulation on its face, encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

Last May Department of Safety wrote a new set of interim rules. In addition to outlawing references to intimate body parts and violence, the rule also outlawed “intoxicants, drugs, or drug culture.”

That got David Adams in a huff. Adams runs a craft brewery tour bus called Granite State Growler Tours. He says his first tour bus, which he calls “Greta,” has the phrase “BEERBUS” on the license plate. 

Adams says his customers have tripled in number, from about 500 in 2013 to 1600 in 2014.  So, he recently bought another bus, and tried to get another vanity plate.

“We applied for NHBEER and GROWLER and BREWBUS,” says Adams. “All three were denied.”

When Adams read through the interim rule, he discovered references to intoxicants were no longer accepted, and that he may have to surrender his existing BEERBUS vanity plate, too.

If lawmakers approve final rules on Friday that exclude references to legal inebriants on vanity plates, Adams says, he’s willing to fight it in court.  Adams says he’s even had attorneys offer to represent him pro-bono.

Attorney Gilles Bissonette with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union says Adams would likely have a case.

But it probably won’t come to that.  

Michael Todd with the Department of Safety says while no statements were made in person or in writing during the public hearing process. Nevertheless, the final proposal going before the rules committee on Friday was released earlier this week. It now only restricts vanity plates with references to illegal intoxicants.

Of course, Todd says, that could change on Friday. But for right now – things are looking up for David Adams, Greta his brewery tour bus, and anyone else who wants to share their love of beer or any other legal drink on the road.

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