The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has ended talks with three organizations whose specialty license plates were suspended last year, surprising the groups that believed a resolution was near.
The BMV stopped negotiations with the Indiana Greenways Foundation, the Indiana 4-H Foundation and the Indiana Youth Group, a support group for gay teenagers. The agency cited the passage of a new state law that creates a legislative commission to recommend specialty plates, The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.
The BMV issued a statement saying it had "been in various levels of conversations with the groups about ending the suspensions. With the passage of the new law ... the legislature has stated its intent regarding the specialty group plates."
The groups can go back through the appeals process or take the matter to a fledgling legislative panel that will make recommendations for specialty plates to the BMV, the agency said.
The groups lost their plates a year ago when conservative lawmakers first tried to pass a bill eliminating the Youth Group's plate and then convinced the BMV to withdraw its plates because the group violated terms by offering low-digit plates to donors and volunteers. The 4-H and Greenways foundations also rewarded supporters with low-digit plates.
Leaders of the three organizations said they had hoped to reach an agreement with the BMV limiting the length of the suspensions.
"We'd been working with them since December, so it was like a complete surprise," said Mary Byrne, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Youth Group. "We were pretty sure we were going to get (the plate) back; it was just a matter of agreeing on the suspension period, how many months that would be."
Karen Bohn, head of the Greenways Foundation, said a BMV attorney had contacted her in February and told her "we're working on getting a contract ready. You should be able to be selling plates in May."
She said she believed the real target was the gay youth group.
"I think we were just collateral damage," she said. "Unfortunately it doesn't seem very fair."
Liz Ellis, executive director of the 4-H Foundation, said "we were hopeful and we did believe we were going to be able to negotiate a settlement." She said 4-H is the largest youth organization in the state, with 200,000 members.
"We have people in all 92 counties asking us when they are going to be able to purchase license plates," she said. "We sell thousands of license plates — or we did sell thousands of license plates each year. It certainly hurts our income and it hurts our programming."
Groups with specialty plates generally receive $25 from each plate sold.