INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Organizers from nonprofit groups urged Indiana lawmakers
Wednesday not to kill the sales of specialty license plates that raise much
of their funding.
A legislative study committee heard about an hour of testimony from
representatives of organizations as diverse as the Indianapolis Zoo, Bicycle
Indiana and the Patriot Guard.
The proliferation of plates expressing support for everything from autism
research to Abraham Lincoln became an issue last year when conservative
lawmakers tried to eliminate a specialty plate for a gay youth group. Their
push failed, but the Bureau of Motor Vehicles later stripped plate
privileges from the Indiana Youth Group and two other organizations, saying
they wrongly traded low-digit plates for contributions. The youth group
maintains the practice is common.
No one from the group that provides support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender teenagers who are struggling with their identities testified
during Wednesday’s hearing at the Statehouse. The group’s director was on
vacation and didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Anne Teigen, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State
Legislatures who spoke to the committee via video from Denver, said gay
rights, racism, abortion and other contentious issues had surfaced over
specialty plates in other states and that several states were reconsidering
offering plates at all or setting stricter qualifications.
“Many states are wrestling with the issue, and there is a state of flux out
there,” said committee Chairman Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.
Former state legislator and treasurer Joyce Brinkman urged lawmakers to
issue the plates only to nonprofits whose activities augment state services
and to set up a system to regularly audit the groups.
While some lawmakers have suggested that the Legislature should approve
which groups receive recognition plates, Gary Democratic Sen. Earline Rogers
“I’m not sure that’s something the Legislature should be doing, because
sometimes politics comes in,” she said.
Nonprofit group leaders who testified Wednesday said the plate program was a
legitimate public-private partnership and helps the organizations provide
needed services that otherwise would have to be paid for by the state.
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.
“From the tax revenue standpoint, the specialty plate program is a
win-win-win for the State of Indiana,” said Charles Hyde, director of
membership for the Indianapolis Zoo.
But most of the organizers said they would be receptive to tighter
regulations, which committee members generally favored.
Soliday said Wednesday’s hearing would likely be the only one before the
panel reports to the Legislature, which is expected to take up the issue in