BMV requests hold on vanity plate ruling pending appeal

(WISH Photo, file)
(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Marion County judge has been tasked for the third time in as many months with deciding whether Indiana must immediately resume issuing vanity license plates. But, the long term future of the program may soon be in the hands of the state’s highest court.

The legal battle surrounding the program has been ongoing since July 2013 when former BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell suspended the state’s personal license plate (PLP) program following a lawsuit filed by Greenfield Police Corporal Rodney Vawter. Judge James Osborn’s May ruling included a series of contradictory plate denials uncovered last year by I-Team 8, which were used as evidence in the case.

The ruling also found that the BMV commissioner does not have the legal authority to suspend the program.

The judge ordered the BMV to reinstate it immediately under a new set of rules, and inform all eligible drivers that they could again apply for new vanity plates. But, the program has not resumed as ordered.

The BMV said the ruling would require the state “to issue personalized plates that contain messages offensive to one’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.” The program remained under suspension following the ruling as the BMV crafted its response in the form of a “motion to correct errors.”

That motion was denied last month.

Last week, the agency filed an appeal and asked that Osborn’s original ruling be stayed — or put on hold — while the appeal is pending. Vawter, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, objected to the stay on Monday, saying the BMV “has apparently taken no steps” to comply with Osborn’s order to resume the vanity plate program.

The filing likely means weeks more waiting ahead for drivers eager for a new personalized license plate. It could also mean the end of Indiana’s vanity plate program altogether.

If the Indiana Supreme Court agrees to take up the issue, it may direct lawmakers to rewrite the law or remove it as an option.

Osborn is expected to rule on the request for a stay within the next 30 days.

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