After much deliberation, IYG filed a lawsuit challenging the decision-making process used in granting specialty license plates by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of IYG, charges that the requirements organizations must meet are vague and that the decisions are arbitrary.
Pretty boring, right?
Wrong! The first question the press asked IYG was, “Is there any thought that this denial may be due to the nature and membership of your group?"
Our response: “We hope not.”
The bottom line is that the criterion laid out by the BMV is so vague that it gives the BMV an inappropriate amount of latitude in approving and denying applications.
Filing the Application in 2008 and 2009:
IYG applied in 2008 for the specialty plates as a way to get the word out about IYG’s services and also was a great way for people to financially support IYG. It should be noted; we met all of the listed criteria.
We did wonder how the BMV would react to an LGBT organization applying. In 2008 eighteen organizations applied for specialty plates through the Indiana BMV and none were approved. It seemed that the BMV realized their criteria needed to be re-examined!
Revised guidelines came out in 2009; however the guidelines were not any more stringent than in the previous year. The only difference was the requirement that 500 names of people (who would purchase the plates if we were approved) needed to be submitted with the application. This was a change from the 2008 guidelines, which required organizations to submit the 500+ names within 3 months of approval.
At least ten other organizations went through that same time and energy in 2009 and in the end only two were approved. We received a letter indicating that our application was denied because we didn't meet all of the criteria, however there was no indication of what criteria we failed to meet. A representative from the BMV contacted IYG prior to the letter to inform us that they didn’t think we had a state-wide presence. Nowhere in the guidelines does it affirm that the organization has to be statewide. However, it does state that the organization has to be based in Indiana and have made a unique and significant civil or community contribution to the state.
A Waste of Time:
The bottom line to this law suit is that being approved for a specialty license plate seems to be a matter of luck and, for most organizations, a complete waste of time. Because the criteria is so vague, not-for-profit organizations that are normally short on money, time, and staff are using these limited resources not knowing they aren’t meeting some unspoken criteria.
IYG and the other organizations would not have spent the time and energy to get 500+ people to sign a petition unless they really thought they met the criteria. While it took an incredible amount of time and energy to get those names, we did, and felt it was worth every minute of our time. It seemed to be a small price to pay in order to get a specialty plate. Surely these other organizations felt the same way.
If the process was transparent and organizations were told why they were denied, the organizations could determine if they wanted to re-apply with additional information the next year.
Soon we will all see if the courts think the BMV uses criteria that are objective and fair and that their process is transparent.
Responses to inaccurate information:
“Now they want their own license plate!”
The law suit has nothing to do with IYG serving LGBT youth. The point of the suit is to challenge the BMV to have clear criteria and to have a transparent process...for ALL organizations that apply. Most non-profits don’t have a lot of extra time and energy to spend trying to be approved for the plates; make the criteria for the specialty plates specific enough so organizations won’t waste their time.
“IYG was turned down because they were going to use the funds for general operating support.”
This statement proves the point of our suit! The 2009 guidelines asked applicants to state their intended use of the funds generated by the plate. Nowhere does it say what the funds can or cannot be used for general operating support. Plus, IYG’s application stated that the funds would be used for 2 part-time people who would staff the center for an extra day per week and to support a monthly parents’ group.
“The ACLU, yet again, sticks its nose where it does not belong.”
The ACLU does not decide on lawsuits they’d like to file and then approach the people they could possibly represent. Like any law firm, people who feel they have been treated unjustly approach the ACLU to represent their organization.