ILNews

BMV tosses personalized license plate policy

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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  A federal lawsuit involving the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and how it handles personalized license plates may be settled in the next week, now that the state agency has thrown out the revised policy banning all religious or deity phrases.

BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver reversed a policy decision Nov. 25 that had taken effect Nov. 6 banning any requested personalized plate message carrying a religious or deity message. Now, an eight-person internal committee will review all requested messages the way the agency had operated for years.

Late last year, the agency had started reviewing about 230 internal policies and eventually decided to move away from the committee review. Instead, the agency would specifically ban anything that referred to drugs, alcohol, bodily functions or parts, political parties, violence, race, gender, religion, or a deity.

"From a legal perspective, we were concerned that if we accepted or approved anything perceived as pro-deity, we'd have to accept anything on the opposite end," BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough said. "If we rejected all references, we were on safe legal ground."

But that decision got a second look from the agency commissioner after scrutiny in the past month, resulting mostly from the Nov. 17 lawsuit filed by Elizabeth Ferris of Cambridge City. Ferris claimed her First Amendment rights to free speech were violated when the agency didn't allow her plate saying BE GODS, meaning "belong to God." Stiver allowed Ferris and three others to get plates a day after the suit was filed, and Rosebrough said the commissioner spent the next week more closely examining the policy through discussions with attorneys and public policy-makers here and outside Indiana.

"That new rule was well-intentioned and based on legitimate legal opinion, but at the end of the day he felt that we really ought to rely on common sense to guide us," Rosebrough said.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Kevin Theriot, who isn't an attorney of record on this case but works on the suit with lead counsel Erik Stanley, said Nov. 26 that this move goes a long way to help resolve the case. Counsel from both sides have been discussing potential settlements, but an agreement hadn't been reached prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We have not made any final dispositions in this case, but we applaud the actions of the BMV and think this will help get everyone to a point where we can find a resolution," he said.

Those seeking personalized plates had until Oct. 31 to submit requests to receive plates in the spring, so the full impact of this policy decision will be on those wanting personalized plates for 2010, Rosebrough said. The BMV receives about 12,000 requests a year, and Rosebrough said motorists whose requests are rejected always have an option to appeal the agency's decisions.

"There really needs to be this vetting process from keeping some very not nice stuff off backs of people's cars," he said. "But this is a subjective process and there're always gray areas. That's why there's an appeal process."

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  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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