Gay youth group appeals license plate revocation

A gay youth group whose specialty license plate was revoked at the behest of conservative Indiana lawmakers is appealing the decision to an administrative law judge, arguing that the state selectively enforced the policy that led to the ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the Indiana Youth Group in its appeal of the state's March decision, which was made after a group of conservative state Senate Republicans lobbied the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to revoke the group's new specialty plates.

The BMV revoked the right of the youth group, the Indiana Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation to issue plates because it said they were selling their allotments of low-numbered plates for more than the $40 allowed.

Mary Byrne, Indiana Youth Group's executive director, said Tuesday that the group will show at the upcoming appeal hearing that it's a common practice for groups that offer specialty plates.

"The plan is to go through discovery and be able to ask these other organizations what they do and how they've done it in the past so that they can we show we've been doing the same thing as other people have," Byrne said.

BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough said the agency halted the sale of the three groups' plates because the higher fees they were charging amounted to a breach of contract with the state.

"So there was a quid pro quo," Rosebrough said.

The 4-H Foundation is also appealing the BMV decision but the Greenways Foundation, a conservation group, declined an administrative appeal, Rosebrough said. 4-H Foundation Board President Christy Denault declined to comment. The Greenways Foundation didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The practice of reserving low-number plates for supporters is fairly common in Indiana. The Indiana Soccer group, which supports youth soccer programs, advertises low-number plates on its website for an additional $30 per plate on top of the $40 charge for specialty plates. Butler University and the Indiana Black Expo offer low-numbered specialty plates, too, and direct inquiries to their fundraising offices.

Ken Falk, the ACLU's legal director who is representing the youth group, said the three groups should not be singled out if it's a common practice.

"Obviously, at the root it is a contractual arrangement, but I think it's relevant to look at how similar contracts have been dealt with others who have had these plates," Falk said.

The ACLU, the youth group and the state have fought over the license plates before. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2010 seeking approval for the youth group's multiple applications for a specialty plate. The state settled out of court in 2010 and the group began issuing plates at the start of this year.

The Senate Republicans approached the BMV about pulling the youth group's plates after GOP state Rep. Jeff Thompson tried but failed to ban specialty plates for gay advocacy groups in the House.

Social conservatives, led in part by conservative Indiana lobbyist Eric Miller, said they were concerned that the youth group was promoting underage sex and specifically cited a course the group led on safe sex entitled "Condoms are Cool and Dental Dams are Dandy."

A handful of Republicans in the House and Senate had said they wanted to focus broadly on whether too many not-fot-profit and advocacy groups were getting specialty plates from the state without focusing on one organization.

"The notion during session was that this whole system needs to be appraised and analyzed to see what is valuable about it and what is not so valuable," said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. State lawmakers are expected to meet over the summer to study the broader issue of how specialty plates are approved and whether it is hard for state police to identify cars with specialty plates.

Aside from the governmental battling, the dust-up has generated more support for the group, Byrne said. It sold 50 copies of an informal plate at the Indianapolis gay pride parade last weekend and its float in the parade was a larger-than-life license plate.

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