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Editorial: Bill brings fairness into specialty plate allocation


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Indiana has a wide array of specialty license plates. In fact, there are so many different ones that at times it seems like the standard plate is in the minority.

The special plates represent an equally broad spectrum of activities and causes, including environmental protection, state history, the arts, and Hoosier colleges and universities, to name just a few.

But the one issued to a gay youth advocacy group raised concerns by conservatives who sought to revoke the group’s plate. Legislators introduced a bill a year ago that would have set rules that excluded the group and others from participating in the state program. That bill did not survive the session.

A more even-handed measure was introduced this session. And that proposal overhauling Indiana’s specialty auto license plate system has been approved by lawmakers and is on its way to Gov. Mike Pence.

The Indiana House voted last week in favor of the bill, which requires all the groups with plates to sell 500 per year and to undergo a financial review once a decade.

The bill previously approved by the Senate would create an eight-member bipartisan commission to review requests from nonprofit groups seeking specialty plates. The panel also would check reports about how the groups spend the proceeds from the plates.

The bill sets a limit of 150 different specialty plates. Indiana now has about 100 different license plates.

This proposal makes sense. License plates have become a form of political speech for many Hoosiers and thus deserve protection. Other residents are free to disagree with the views the various organizations represent, but they shouldn’t have the right to stifle opinions.

In addition, setting a sale limit would help ensure there is reasonably broad support for the organization seeking a special plate. If they can’t sell it to like-minded vehicle owners, then there’s no reason for the state to guarantee the group a plate. The state shouldn’t be asked to stock license plates when only a handful will be distributed or to allow a license plate for every special interest that wants one.

The bill passed by the General Assembly addresses several weaknesses in current license plate rules. It creates clearer parameters for the plates and reduces some of the risks from politically or socially motivated attacks.

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