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Bill would ban vehicle vulgarity

February 21, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County Sheriff's deputy Matthew Bragunier figures that he sees, at least once a day, fake bull genitals flopping from the hitches of pickup trucks.

They're only a toy, but they're also unpleasant to look at, said Bragunier, worried what his 2-year-old girl might think someday.

"My daughter's going to see this," he said. "She's going to ask what this is. I don't want to be put in that spot. I don't think I ever want to be in that spot."

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, agreed.

This week, he filed a bill for Maryland to ban the toys and others like them.

The bill prohibits any "model, sign, sticker or other item" that shows uncovered human or animal genitals, as well as human buttocks or female breasts, from motor vehicles.

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Myers sees his bill as a legislative public service.

"We're there to clean up the air ...," he said, referring to major bills proposed this session. "What about our minds and eyes of our young people?"

That's not how Pamela Campbell views the fake bull genitals that she sells.

"Most people get a good smile out of it," she said. "It's not harmful."

Campbell, whose business is in Bullhead City, Ariz., said she was raised on a farm; anatomy was a lesson learned early and openly. She wondered why parents can't talk to their children about the facts of life.

"Do we have to neuter all dogs that walk by us?" she asked. "Where does it stop?"

Campbell said her product - sold locally at truck stores in Washington County and Martinsburg, W.Va. - spawned imitators after it went on the market about seven years ago.

It has caught on in such a big way, she said, that U.S. troops in Iraq are asking for them to hang on military vehicles. Pleased soldiers have sent back pictures.

Myers, though, sees vulgarity on public roads, more than just good-hearted fun.

He has heard about and seen different types of vehicle accessories and bumper stickers depicting nude anatomy.

"I think we're really pushing the envelope ...," he said. "It's time to take a stand."

His bill would make depictions of nude anatomy a misdemeanor under the state's transportation law. The fine would be as much as $500.

Myers' bill has no co-sponsors, but he said other delegates have pledged to support it later in the process.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, understands Myers' point.

"Private body parts, you know, hanging from the trailer hitch are offensive, particularly if you've got a couple kids ...," he said. "Let me put it this way: If it makes it to the floor and I get an opportunity to vote on it, I'll support it."

Last week, Arizona's legislature went through its own debate over poor taste and truck parts. An amendment to ban "obscene or hateful" images from mud flaps was rejected, according to news accounts.

Myers' proposed ban doesn't sit well with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

"The legislation is overly broad, and would probably make it illegal to have a sticker on your car of the Venus de Milo from an art museum," ACLU of Maryland spokeswoman Meredith Curtis wrote in an e-mail.

"What's often wrong about bills that seek to limit free speech is that they have connotations beyond what is intended by the sponsor," she said in a phone interview. "That's why limiting free speech is a dangerous road to go down."

Myers argued that decency, not the First Amendment, applies here.

"We're not talking about any language here at all," he said. "Where's the free speech? This is just downright vulgarity."

On the Web: http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/hb1163.htm




Text of the bill



"A person may not display on a motor vehicle any model, sign, sticker, or other item that depicts or resembles anatomically correct, less than completely and opaquely covered, human or animal genitals, human buttocks, or human female breasts."

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