It was Thursday afternoon and high school English teacher Matt Pacenza was driving home when he saw a license plate reading “DEPORTM” near Trolley Square.
Troubled, he snapped a photo of the personalized plate and posted it to Twitter. Likes and comments started flooding in, some expressing distress, others outraged over the inscription.
The social media thread attracted the attention of several state senators as well as the Utah State Tax Commission, which oversees license plate approval. The commission announced the following day it is reviewing whether the plate violates department guidelines.
“A private citizen has a first amendment right to say offensive things. The State does not, and has rules about license plates,” tweeted state Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R. “I believe those rules have been violated here. Hopefully Tax Commission agrees.”
However, Thatcher followed up his tweet with another the next day. He confirmed that the state Tax Commission had become aware of the plate and that an investigation into the person behind its creation and approvers had been launched.
The Republicans said that the offender was using “State resources to promote divisiveness and racism.”
Then his Democratic colleague in the Utah Senate, state Sen. Luz Escamilla, announced that lawmakers would discuss what it takes to deny personalized plates and how the law is being interpreted.
Tammy Kikuchi, a spokesman for the Utah State Tax Commission, the agency overseeing the approval of vanity license plates, told local media outlets that it was unclear how, in a state where more than 1,000 vanity plates were rejected in the last five years, “DEPORTM” was approved in 2015.
“We’re not sure how it got through,” Kikuchi said. “We’re really quite surprised.”
More from AWM:
Representatives from both the Tax Commission and the DMV were prepared to attend the meeting to make it clear that they do not approve of this usage of the plate. As part of the meeting, the committee will learn how Utah goes about deciding what is or is not offensive and who pushed through this controversial vanity plate back in 2015.
KUTV asked the DMV for a list of rejected vanity plate names and received more than one hundred, including, but not limited to, “SAUSAGE,” “NSTYHOE,” “W1NGMAN,” and “PLAN B.”
Currently, if a license plate is recalled in Utah, the driver must respond within 15 days of being notified and select a different vanity plate. The owner of the plate can also file an appeal.
Watch the video report below for more details: