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Indiana House looking to revamp specialty plates program
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — It’s too early to know how legislation designed to revamp Indiana’s specialty license plate program would affect three plates suspended last year, according to a spokesman with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

The legislation, House Bill 1279, would create an eight-member advisory committee of legislators whose roles would be to recommend specialty plates to the BMV. The bill was approved Feb. 6 by the state House Roads and Transportation Committee and sent to the full House.

The legislation was introduced last month by Rep. Ed Soliday (R-District 4), chair of the committee.

The specialty plate for the Indiana 4-H Foundation was suspended March 16, 2012, because it offered low-numbered plates for specific monetary reasons, the BMV has said. Plates for the Indiana Youth Group and Greenways Foundation were suspended for the same reason, according to the BMV.

The agency found the organizations posted instructions on their websites describing how potential purchasers could get lower-numbered specialty plates by contributing certain dollar amounts. Language on the sites stated the higher the contribution, the lower the plate number a contributor could receive, the BMV said. The Indiana Administrative Code bans the selling of plates for specific contribution amounts.

Once a final version of the legislation is approved, the BMV will have to determine how it may affect the status of the suspended plates, said Dennis L. Rosebrough, a BMV spokesman. The agency is ready, though, to implement whatever format is approved by Indiana legislators for the program.

“We are neutral on any of the issues,” he said. “But in terms of production and distribution (of plates), BMV can accommodate any plan the legislature creates.”

The goal of the legislation is to “straighten out” the process of getting a specialty plate in Indiana, Soliday said, adding the current program is “kind of chaotic.” For example, he said currently, any constituent may approach a legislator to ask for a plate to represent a certain organization.

“The people who might ask for a plate may not be authorized by that organization,” he said. “In that case, the organization would say ‘We don’t want it, we never asked for it.’”

The eight-member panel proposed in the legislation would meet twice a year, Soliday said. Indiana has 125 specialty plates and the legislation would cap that number at 150, he said. Five new plates could be added annually.

In order to stay in the program, an organization would have to sell 500 or more plates during the first two years of availability and then sell 500 annually, Soliday explained. An amendment added before the Feb. 6 committee vote gives the BMV some leeway if plate sales for an organization don’t quite reach 500.

Current specialty plates and the organizations they represent would be reviewed every 10 years by the advisory committee.
“There will be a degree of subjectivity,” he stated. “To the best of our ability, we’re going to try to be fair. We’re going to try to be transparent. We put a lot of work into this and came up with this process.”

Approved plates should have a statewide impact, Soliday said: “If it’s an organization that really is related only to Indianapolis, then I’m going to want someone to help me understand why this should be a statewide plate.”

When reviewing a specialty plate, he said the committee should consider how public the organization is, if it has an audit and where the money goes. Specialty plates cost $40 more than regular plates. The sponsoring group receives $25 per plate and the BMV gets $15.

In 2012, the state sold 418,092 specialty plates, Rosebrough said. That number does not include several military plates, such as those for veterans and the National Guard. It also doesn’t include the In God We Trust plate, and those for municipal, state legislators, officeholders or other similar plates.

The Indiana University plate was the highest-selling specialty plate in the state last year, with 49,762 sold, according to a financial impact statement prepared by the Legislative Services Agency’s Office of Fiscal and Management Analysis. The lowest-selling plate, at 100, was for Earlham College.