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Monday, September 10, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Nonprofit groups urge lawmakers not to kill plates"

Updating this ILB entry from Sept. 6th, Maureen Hayden of CNHI reported Sept. 9th in the New Albany News & Tribune in an informative story that begins:

INDIANAPOLIS — Who would have thought the back of your car could become a free speech battleground?

Probably not the folks in Florida who, in 1987, started the trend of using state-issued specialty license plates to raise money for special causes. Florida thought it was a good idea to honor the astronauts who had died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster by building a memorial to them. The state created and sold the special Challenger plate to fund it, raising millions of dollars for the project.

That triggered other states, including Indiana, to create a mechanism for state-issued license plates to become sources of revenue for projects beyond the states’ usual scope.

Now, for an extra fee of $40 beyond what it costs to license your vehicle, Hoosiers can pick from more than 100 state-issued specialty license plates to express their support for organizations that range from the National Rifle Association to the University of Notre Dame.

They’re popular: Almost a half-million Hoosiers bought specialty license plates last year, raising millions of dollars for their favorite causes.

The problem, though, arises when someone doesn’t like the cause. Last year, some conservative lawmakers in the Indiana legislature tried to eliminate a specialty plate for a gay youth group. Their push failed, but the Bureau of Motor Vehicles later stripped the plates from the group and two other organizations, saying they wrongly traded low-digit plates for contributions. Those groups contend the practice is common.

The Indiana legislature is likely to take up the issue in the next session but there are no easy answers. Specialty license plates have caused havoc in almost every state that has them.

The story concludes:
A central question in the debate: Are the state-issued specialty license plates government speech or private citizens’ speech?

The First Amendment applies to government efforts to restrict free speech; it doesn’t apply to the state itself. But if the state sanctions license plates for certain private organizations to broadcast their messages, is it the state talking? Or is it just allowing some private citizens to talk while censoring others?

Those are some of the questions that the Indiana General Assembly will have to confront.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette had a long editorial Sept. 7th urging that "Indiana lawmakers need to set a consistent and reasonable policy for issuing specialty-group license plates and then ensure the Bureau of Motor Vehicles carries out the policy impartially. ."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 10, 2012 09:49 AM
Posted to Indiana Government