Lawmakers approve pair of new license plates

A panel of state lawmakers on Tuesday approved license plates recognizing the Indy 500 and Abraham Lincoln under a new system clamping down on the number of special license plates on the road.

Members of the Legislature's transportation study committee submitted their recommendations to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday afternoon. Lawmakers spent the morning grading two applicants, one from the Indy 500 Festival and another from the Santa Claus-based Lincoln's Indiana Boyhood Home group that promotes the famous president's ties to the state.

Legislators put a tougher system in place to cut down on the number of groups receiving special license plates. House Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday, a Valparaiso Republican, said he found numerous problems with the old system, which he called "unfair."

He said some groups would bypass the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and go directly to lawmakers to have them approve new plates through legislation.

Lawmakers approved a cap of 125 special group plates during their 2013 session and set a one-year moratorium on approving new plates while they studied the issue.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat and member of the transportation panel, said members look at issues including whether the group requesting the plates can show financial audits and whether the money being raised is used for the group's stated purpose. Under the new system, the BMV forwards applications to the lawmakers who then score them and make recommendations on which groups should be approved. The BMV has the final say in the process.

Special group plates have caused some consternation for state lawmakers and officials in the past. The American Civil Liberties Union fought the state in court off and on for roughly four years trying to win special plates for the Indiana Youth Group, an Indianapolis support group for gay teenagers.

The ACLU won approval of plates for the group in late 2010, but the BMV suspended the plates in 2012 amid lobbying from conservative lawmakers who said the youth group had violated a contractual promise not to auction off low-numbered plates to supporters. Behind the scenes, religious conservatives had been pushing unsuccessfully for a ban on plates for the youth group.

The ACLU challenged the suspension through the state's administrative process and an administrative judge ordered the sale of plates be reinstated for the group last summer.

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