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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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.