Judge: Indiana Improperly Revoked Gay Group’s License Plate
Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles improperly revoked a gay-youth advocacy group's specialty license plate last year and should reinstate that plate by late June, an administrative law judge has ruled.
Tuesday's ruling says the Indiana Youth Group had violated Indiana law and its state contract "by suggesting, requiring, and receiving unauthorized payments" for low-numbered license plates to its supporters.
But BMV administrative law judge Melissa Reynolds found that the group's actions did not constitute a sale or auction of low-digit license plate and therefore "did not support the immediate termination" of its state contact and revocation of its plate.
Her ruling recommends the BMV reinstate Indiana Youth Group's license plate within 30 days of Tuesday's ruling. If the BMV doesn't appeal the ruling within 18 days of the ruling, that order becomes final.
BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said in a statement that BMV commissioner R. Scott Waddell "will act on the ruling within the allotted" time. Gillespie said the parties have until June 15 to appeal the ruling and if there is no appeal, the Indiana Youth Group's plate would be reinstated on June 27.
A group of conservative state Senate Republicans had lobbied the BMV to revoke the group's plate, which was approved in 2011. Social conservatives led by Indiana lobbyist Eric Miller had said they were concerned that the youth group was promoting underage sex.
Miller did not immediately responds to messages seeking comment left Friday at his office.
Indiana Youth Group Executive Director Mary Byrne said Friday in a statement that the group serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youths is "incredibly grateful that our case was reviewed based on the merits and not a political agenda."
"While the politics may not have been on our side through this process, we were always confident that the facts were," she said. "We just wanted a fair shake from the state and a chance to sell our plates again."
In revoking the group's license plate in March 2012, the BMV said the Indiana Youth Group was selling its allotment of low-numbered plates for more than the amount allowed under their contracts. Two other organizations which also were accused of the same actions lost their plates.
The Indiana Youth Group appealed the BMV's decision in June 2012. Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, who is representing the youth group, argued that the state had selectively enforced the policy that led to the group's loss of its plate.
A hearing on that appeal was delayed several times until Reynolds heard arguments May 10 from the BMV and Falk.
Her ruling states that the Indiana Youth Group argued that it "believed it could advertise the availability of low digit license plates for specific donation amounts because other special groups were doing so."
Reynolds' ruling said the group's website stated that prestige "'plates with a low-number' were being offered as a thank-you gift for donations" and included a chart of five ranges of low digit numbers, each associated "with a specific minimum donation amount."
Her ruling said that while the group's actions violated state law and its contract, under Indiana law "it is only the sale or auction" of a specialty license plate that can result in immediate termination of the contract.
She found that the group's "actions did not constitute a sale or auction of low digit" license plates and its actions "did not support the immediate termination" of its contact and the plate.
Reynolds found that the BMV was instead required to give the group 30 days' notice for the "opportunity to correct or cure its breach prior to terminating the Contract."