A bill that would drastically alter the allocation of funds made from Florida’s “Choose Life” plates cleared the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday, in an 11-4 vote. Critics of the law fear changes to the “Choose Life” system would allow money spent on the plates to be used to fund crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion advertising, and even “Choose Life” programs in other states.
Currently, funds made off the sale of the bright yellow plates go to Florida’s counties, which are then required to distribute the funds to pregnancy centers that serve the needs of women looking to put their children up for adoption. The bulk of the funds (at least 70 percent) must go to meeting the physical needs of pregnant women: diapers, food, etc. Only the remainder (30 percent or less) can go to funding counseling services, advertising, and training.
House Bill 501 (.pdf), which is sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, aims to put all the funding raised off the plates squarely into the hands of Choose Life, Inc. The bill would also do away with the 70/30 split, leaving Choose Life free to use any amount of the funds for advertising or counseling.
Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, is currently in Tallahassee to oppose the bill and suggest changes.
“Planned Parenthood is opposed to the bill for a few reasons,” she says. “Baxley’s proposal would take out that 70/30 split. We’d like that split to remain in the statute, and even for the 70 percent portion to get higher. We want the funds to actually go to meet the needs of pregnant women who are choosing adoption.”
Kunkel says Planned Parenthood is worried that, with a changed bill, more money will go to funding crisis pregnancy centers that disseminate false information to pregnant women regarding adoption and abortion. “Doing away with that split also allows an organization receiving the funds to use funds to pay for billboards, advertising, Yellow Book ads … instead of funding the material needs of pregnant women,” she says.
Since Baxley’s bill stipulates that Florida counties would no longer receive the funds, Ocala-based Choose Life would be solely in charge of the funds. Kunkel says that Choose Life’s mission statement worries her.
“If you look on their website, it says that Choose Life aims to ‘work with interested citizens in Florida and other states … to encourage adoption,’” she says. “Nowhere in this bill does it state that funds expended in Florida must be used in Florida. So money is given for the sole purpose of helping pregnant women in Florida could actually be helping other states obtain their own ‘Choose Life’ plates.”
Florida Reps. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, shared Kunkel’s concerns and offered amendments in a previous committee hearing that would have maintained the 70/30 split, clarified that no funds could be used for advertising purposes, and maintained that all funds stay in Florida. All of those amendments failed in a party-line vote.
Next, the bill will move to an economic affairs committee, and Kunkel says Planned Parenthood will be there to “to ensure that the needs of pregnant women in Florida are met.”
So far, the bill’s Senate companion (sponsored by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey) has not moved.