Sal Bartolotta of Bremen poses with his 2007 Toyota Tundra given to him by his father with the vanity plate "KISMYAS" on May 7, 2021. Credit: Caitlin Andrews

AUGUSTA, Maine — Urban Dictionary would be part of Maine bureaucrats’ research arsenal under proposed rules released Thursday that describe how they would target “obscene” vanity plates on state roads.

The Legislature passed a law last year banning plates that include or reference swear words, genitalia, encourages violence or degrades a demographic. It also includes plates that suggest the driver is part of a government or public institution or duplicate other plates.

Draft rules released by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office would rely on staffers to determine what plates should be pulled. It is the start of a process that is likely to bring First Amendment complaints to the courts and end an aspect of Maine culture that is horrifying or hilarious, depending on your taste. Roughly 400 plates could fall under the limits.

“The First Amendment protects your right to have any bumper sticker you want, but it doesn’t force the state to issue official registration plates that subject children in our communities to obscenity or profanity,” said Bellows, a former leader of the American Civil Liberties Union in Maine, in a news release.

The rules allow for the bureau to review current license plates at their discretion or to take complaints from the public. Two Bureau of Motor Vehicles staff members will be appointed to review those plates or applications for new ones to determine if they violate the law.

If meanings are not obvious, they are advised to consult sources including the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ best practices guide, traditional dictionaries or Urban Dictionary, a website that chronicles slang and pop culture references.

If existing plates violate the rules, the state will inform the driver in writing of the recall and give them 14 days from the date of the notice to appeal. If they do not, the state will give them a new registration and partially refund their vanity plate registration fee, which starts at $25.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the rules either via written or electronic comment through June 6, according to a BMV release, or attend a public hearing on May 27. A BMV spokesperson said the committee would likely begin work in the fall once rules are adopted.