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Indiana BMV Chief Avoiding Specialty Plates Debate

Last updated on Monday, April 16, 2012

(FORT WAYNE) - Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles is trying to stay out of the debate among legislators over how many specialty license plates the state should issue.

The Associated Press reports a legislative committee is expected over the summer to review the policies under which some 100 schools and organizations have obtained the fundraising specialty plates.

BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell told The Journal Gazette for a story Sunday that he didn't think it was his place to say what should be done with the specialty plate rules.

"I think it's definitely a good idea to review the program," Waddell said. "The Legislature needs to tell us what they believe the program should be."

During this year's legislative session, Republican lawmakers sought to eliminate a gay-youth advocacy group's plate. That push failed, but the BMV last month stripped the plates from the Indiana Youth Group and two other organizations, saying they wrongly traded low-digit plates for contributions.

The gay-youth advocacy group's leaders have maintained they did nothing different than many other groups and have said they're considering legal action to keep the specialty plate that first went on sale in December.

Legislative leaders haven't yet set a schedule for the study committee. But a legislator who has proposed a broad overhaul of the plate policies said the committee's options are wide

"Should everyone get a plate with no responsibility at all? We can do that. All we have to do is print them," said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. "On the other end of the perspective is if we are using the state's name to advertise do we have the responsibility to make sure these groups are operating legally and ethically, and the dollars are being spent on worthwhile causes?"

Motorists pay an additional $40 for the special plates, with $25 going the organization and $15 to the BMV. About 459,000 such plates are currently on vehicles -- a number that has been consistent for several years, even as 39 new plates have been approved in the last six years.

Overall, Waddell said a limited number of people are willing to pay the extra cost of having a specialty plate. That pool of people doesn't grow, so when additional plates are added it is just "robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.

Soliday, who is pushing to reduce the size of the program through added accountability and requirements, said he doesn't blame the BMV.

"They operate under the rules and they are only as good as the rules they have," he said. "I think they have done their job. But I think we might be able to give them more tools."

State Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has repeatedly brought up public safety concerns involving the more than 100 plates. But it seems most of those issues have been alleviated.

State police Capt. Dave Bursten said there were concerns a few years ago with the readability of the plates, since they had two small letters stacked on top of each other. The old system also could use the same plate number, for instance, for a truck plate and a specialty plate.

"Now every plate has its own number regardless of the type of plate," Bursten said. "Uniformity and readability were our concerns. Otherwise, this is a policy decision for the BMV and the Legislature."

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