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Vanity plate issue likely not settled for state

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The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles must resume issuing personalized license plates, a Marion County judge ordered Wednesday, but that doesn't mean it'll happen in the near future.

County Judge James Osborn denied the state's request that he stay his May ruling, which ordered it to resume selling vanity plates, BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie and the Indiana attorney general's office said. But the bureau informed the Indiana Supreme Court on July 7 it intends to appeal Osborn's ruling and also asked it to stay the lower-court order, meaning that the issue is not yet resolved.

The BMV had suspended the plates' sales in July 2013, after Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter sued the bureau for revoking his license plate that read "0INK."

Osborn found the BMV violated Vawter's freedom of speech and also found the system for issuing the plates unconstitutional. He said that the BMV has no formal regulations in place for evaluating the content of vanity plates and ordered it to create standards that meet constitutional requirements within six months.

Osborn ruled that the BMV violated some vanity plate applicants' free speech rights by turning down some requests while allowing others. For example, the agency revoked an "UNHOLY" vanity plate but allowed vanity plates such as "B HOLY" and "HOLYONE."

The BMV cited a state statute that allowed it to refuse to issue a plate when officials deem it carries "a connotation offensive to good taste and decency" or that "would be misleading." The state agency also argues Osborn's May ruling rewrote the rules and would force it to allow offensive plates that might insult ethnic groups.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represents Vawter, contends in legal documents that the BMV is still allowed to deny plates that are defamatory, vulgar or could incite violence. Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said Wednesday he doesn't believe the grounds for a stay have been met.

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  • Right vs Privileges
    I believe that driving a car is considered a "privilege" not a "right" based on the manual we study when we get our driver's license. If it is a privilege provided by the State, why does the State not have the right to restrict license plates based on whatever they feel is appropriate for driver safety? Doesn't seem like freedom of speech really should be an issue here. And, its certainly disappointing to think that a law enforcement individual made this an issue. Shouldn't he know that driving is a privilege as he usually enforces the right of the State to take away this privilege. All and all, a shameful and wasteful legal issue.
  • hmmmm
    Can I get a MAFIA plate? (or will that involve another lawsuit)
  • Enough already
    When are the officials in this state going to get it? Everything seems to be challenged by our Indiana govt/politicians. Is this issue of vanity plates important enough to challenge it? Are gay marriages important enough to challenge? Is the use of Marijuana important enough to challenge? To the Indiana government I say this: stop already! Focus on real crime and criminals that are drains on society and not moral crap that you don't happen to agree with! Put your prayer books down and do the job that you are paid to do! Stop telling us what is good for us and what isn't. Believe it or not, we can think for ourselves AND make the right decisions!

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