Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 4, 2013

Specialty license plates prompt debate

Bill seeks to streamline application system.

Indianapolis — Specialty license plates raise millions of dollars for universities and non-profits in Indiana, but they’re also prompting debate about what kind of controls the state should exert over them.

Legislation that came out a summer study committee on the issue would cap the number of organizations that could get the state-issued plates, eliminate some that currently have them, and compel groups that want one to reveal more about how they’re spending their money.

It would also create an eight-member bipartisan commission to review future plate requests, taking away some of the control that the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles now has.

The bill’s author, Republican state Rep. Ed Soliday of Valpraiso, said his intent is to bring more order and fairness – and less controversy—to what he called a “helter-skelter” system.

Soliday, chairman of the House roads and transportation committee, took on the task of writing new rules for the specialty plates after controversy erupted last year.

During the 2012 session, some conservative members of the Indiana General Assembly tried to eliminate a specialty plate that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued for the Indiana Youth Group, which supports gay youth. The IYG and the American Civil Liberties had gone to court in 2010 to get the plate, after the BMV initially denied the IYG’s request.

The push by legislators to kill the plate failed. But the BMV later stripped the group of its plate and pulled the plates of two other organizations, saying they wrongly traded low-digit plates for contributions. Those groups contended the practice is common and threatened to sue.

Soliday said the controversy showed the need for the legislature to take another look at the how the state’s specialty license plates are issued.

“We’re trying to have a bill that’s fair, that gives everybody a chance, and that will stand up to judicial review,” Soliday said. Co-authors of House Bill 1129 are state Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany and state Rep. Jud McMillin of Brookville, both Republicans.

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