12 Investigates: "Bad Hass" license plate controversy

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - A license plate in Petersburg has the Department of Motor Vehicles up in arms. The agency is asking for the tags back, but a local family is saying not so fast. They claim the DMV is violating their constitutional right to free speech.

The Virginia vanity plate "B-A-D-H-A-S-S" makes a statement - but it might not be the one you think.

"I'm not putting out a cuss word on my plate. I'm putting my last name on my plate," said Cindy Hass. "It's a nickname I had in high school. People would see me, they'd say 'hey, what's up Bad Hass.' "

It's a German name and used to be spelled H-A-A-S. Her family's spelled it H-A-S-S for a century. She's had the license plate for around seven years.

"I've been pulled over by police officers (for speeding) and they laugh at my plates. They think it's hilarious when they see my registration and they realize it's my last name," said Hass.

In fact, the vanity plates are a family affair. "There's my dad - John with J-A-K-H-A-S-S. My mom has two cars. There's M-Y-H-A-S-S and Y-S-H-A-S-S. My brother, he's a big guy. So, he went with B-I-G-H-A-S-S.

Though Cindy and her B-A-D-H-A-S-S are the only family plate to be singled out by the DMV.

"I'm upset someone would say that's offensive, that's vulgar, that's profane," said Hass.

But that's exactly what a letter from the DMV says. To the average person, her tags may be considered "profane, obscene or vulgar in nature."

DMV Spokesperson Sunni Brown was unable to comment on the Hass case, citing privacy reasons. She did say, "The guidelines clearly state that the message is reviewed based on what a person would reasonably see when they're viewing the message."

The DMV asked for the tags back. Hass is refusing, saying it's free speech. She agrees it shouldn't be "anything goes" on state issued license plates, she just doesn't see B-A-D-H-A-S-S, as that bad.

"Certain words are definitely bad words, but even the three letter word that's in my last name is allowed in prime time television,"

Hass even got a ticket this month for expired tags. She's refusing to turn them over. The DMV has scheduled a hearing on this case for Friday morning.

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