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Bill limiting Indiana specialty auto plates advances

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The state lawmaker trying to overhaul Indiana's specialty auto license plate system said Wednesday he believed a compromise has been reached on changes.

The next test for the proposal will come before the full Indiana House after the House transportation committee voted 12-0 in favor of the bill Wednesday following a brief hearing during which no one spoke against it.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, would create an eight-member bipartisan panel to review requests from not-for-profit groups and universities for specialty fundraising plates. It would set new requirements for the groups to submit reports how they are spending their share of the money from the license plates and sell at least 500 plates a year.

The new panel could recommend up to new five plates a year, with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles allowed to have a maximum of 150 specialty plates. A legislative report shows that 17 of the 92 specialty plates sold during the past two years fell short of selling the proposed minimum 500 plates a year.

"I'm hoping that we have tried to address people's concerns," Soliday said. "We didn't take any plates away from anyone who wanted one. We give a path for those who want plates in the future that should be the same for everybody."

Another new requirement included in the bill would allow the BMV to revoke the plate of any group found to have advocated or committed a violation of state or federal law.

Soliday led an effort last year to limit specialty plates, but he dropped the bill after controversy erupted over the push by some legislators to revoke plates issued by the Indiana Youth Group. The group, which counsels gay youths, became a lightning rod for social conservatives who accused it of promoting underage sex. The group has vehemently denied those accusations.

The BMV later pulled the youth group's plate after determining in a review prompted by some Republican senators that the organization and two others broke their contracts with the state by auctioning low-numbered plates.

Groups with the specialty plates receive $25 of the additional $40 fee charged by the BMV for those auto tags. Those groups say the program is a valuable fundraiser and improves their public visibility.

Gina Leckron, Habitat for Humanity's state director, said the some 600 plates the group sold last year helped it respond to emergency situations such as last year's deadly tornado that hit the southern Indiana town of Henryville and the surrounding area.

"When the tornado hit Henryville, we used that money as really seed money to go down and do the evaluation and begin to mobilize resources," she said.

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