Following the request of 20 Indiana state senators, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has rescinded specialty license plates from a gay youth support group, along with two other organizations, citing a contract violation. But the GLBT youth group, Indiana Youth Group, will now try to file a lawsuit.
Ten weeks after the plates became available, IYG received a letter from the BMV rescinding its specialty plates.
During the brief time the plates were offered, IYG was using its low-numbered plates as “thank you” gifts to individuals offering donations to the nonprofit organization. IYG’s specialty plate was the second plate in the country supporting gay youth. In Indiana, more than 85 specialty plates exist.
“The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has reviewed allegations that the Indiana Youth Group violated the professional services contract executed on Oct. 26, 2011, between BMV and IGY, by offering low-digit license plates for unauthorized monetary contributions,” according to a letter sent from BMV to IGY on March 16.
The issue came to the attention of the BMV during the final day of the Indiana General Assembly’s legislative session March 9.
During the final days of the legislative session, IYG Executive Director Mary Byrne said conference committees tried passing several amendments barring the group from continuing to issue its specialty plates. But when the amendments did not pass, senators found another route.
After browsing IYG’s website, senators determined IYG violated its contract with the BMV because IYG offered the plates in exchange for monetary donations.
“This is a clear violation of the contract which by its terms requires automatic termination and elimination of the right to a specialty plate,” according to a letter sent by the senators to the BMV on March 9. “We hereby request you pursue immediate termination of this group’s specialty plate and respectfully request that you inform us as to the actions you have taken in regard to this request.”
According to IYG’s website, certain low-digit specialty plates were offered to donors making specific monetary contributions to the organization.
While the contract provides that IYG may assign low-digit specialty plates to registrants, the group’s contract prevented it from auctioning or selling the plates, according to the letter sent from the BMV to IYG. IYG was also prohibited from charging additional fees to receive a low-digit specialty plate.
But Byrne believes the removal of the plates was not for a contract violation but because the organization supports gay youth in Indiana. Offering low-number specialty plates has been common practice among organizations and universities across the state, Byrne said.
“It’s the targeting that I think bothers us,” Byrne said. “These people didn’t want a group that was helping gay kids to have a license plate.”
However, it was IYG’s transparency that might have cost the group its plates, she continued. If an individual wants a low-number specialty plate from most organizations across the state, Byrne said they are required to call the organization’s development department.
“Development directors handle donations,” Byrne said. “So, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you call the development director and want a low-number plate, they are going to ask you, ‘What kind of donation are you going to make?’”
But because IYG does not have a development department, it included information on its website stating that, to receive a low-number specialty plate from IGY, a donation to the organization was required.
“Had we been like everybody else and said, ‘If you want a low-number plate, call the executive director,’ we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Byrne said.
During the 10 weeks the gay youth plates were offered, more than 600 were issued, Byrne said. While the organization is now barred from issuing any additional plates, people with the plates will be allowed to renew them for five years.
Along with IYG, the 4-H Foundation and the Greenways Foundation also lost their specialty plates for similar violations. But Byrne called them “collateral damage.”
Additional groups throughout the state still offer plates for monetary donations, Byrne said. But before BMV rescinded specialty plates from IGY, the 4-H Foundation and Greenways Foundation, Byrne said the bureau did not investigate other organizations.
“The week before when this thing happened, we went online and found a half a dozen different organizations and universities that had this on their website,” Byrne said. “Had the BMV done any cursory investigation, they would have found many more.”
Byrne also said there was no due process before the plates were removed from distribution.
“They canceled our contract without any sort of hearing, any sort of due process,” Byrne said. “So, I would assume that is where we would start — to have a meeting with the BMV and discuss this.”
IYG is still investigating potential legal representation to handle its case.
The goal: reinstate the specialty license plates supporting Indiana’s gay youth.
“All organizations in the specialty group plate program will receive notice from the BMV reminding them of the provisions of the Indiana Code and Indiana Administrative Code that prohibit the unauthorized sale of their low-digit plates,” according to a press release from the BMV. “If proof of similar activity by any other organization is brought to the BMV, the BMV staff will pursue and administer similar sanctions based on similar circumstances.”