A bill that overhauled how funds made off of Florida’s “Choose Life” license plates was officially signed into law in August 2011, but exactly where the funds go now and how the measure has improved the Choose Life mission remains unclear.

Before passage of last year’s bill, proceeds from the “Choose Life” plates were funnelled through the Department of Transportation into specific counties that were then put in charge of distributing the funds to various local organizations. Under state law, 70 percent of those funds had to be distributed to organizations that help the physical needs of pregnant women: diapers, food and other items for women who planned on putting their babies up for adoption, for example. The other 30 percent of the funds could go toward counseling, training or advertising.

But Senate Bill 196 (.pdf), sponsored by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, did away with that 70/30 split, putting all of the funds in the hands of Choose Life, Inc., the Ocala-based nonprofit that sponsors the plates. Choose Life is now free to spend the money as it sees fit, with some caveats. The money must stay in Florida (it cannot be used to advertise plates in other states) and the majority of the funds must go toward meeting the materials needs of pregnant women.

Critics of the bill argued that it could lead to more funding for controversial crisis pregnancy centers, and allow them to advertise on billboards and in phonebooks, but not require that the information they give pregnant women be medically or factually accurate. A 2010 Florida Independent report revealed that many Florida crisis pregnancy centers disseminate inaccurate medical information, including the claim that abortion causes mental illness.

So how has the passage of the bill expanded benefits for pregnant women looking to make adoptions plan for their children? And has it led to more funding of crisis pregnancy centers? Answers to those questions remain unclear.

We ran into some hurdles when trying to track down exactly where the funds made off of the sale of “Choose Life” plates have gone since the new law went into effect. First, we tried to contact Choose Life itself; the organization never got back to us. We also contacted Fasano’s office, hoping that he might be able to track down more information.

The senator’s office was also unable to nail down specifics about where, exactly, the funds have gone, but had this to say in a statement to the Florida Independent:

Senator Fasano is pleased that the legislation has helped Choose Life direct funds to those communities that are able to utilize them. Under the previous statute the funds were not able to be spent beyond the borders of a county.  This resulted in funds sitting idle in counties that did not have a qualifying program. Now, Choose Life can make sure that adoption services can be funded wherever they are needed in the state. Additionally, Senator Fasano is encouraged that the Choose Life plate continues to rank in the Top Ten of all specialty plates in Florida with proceeds in excess of $7.7 million going to the 250 agencies in the state which support adoption-related services.

According to the Choose Life website, 408,747 of the plates have been sold or renewed in Florida between August 2000 and Dec. 31, 2011, raising a total of $8.3 million. In 2010, the plate was the ninth most popular among Florida’s 114 specialty plates.

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