INDIANAPOLIS | If Forrest Gump were to survey the backs of Hoosier vehicles he might say an Indiana license plate is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.
In addition to millions of standard blue plates featuring the torch from the state flag and the U.S. flag-emblazoned "In God We Trust" plates, Indiana has issued some 459,000 "group" license plates in more than 85 different designs featuring the logos of universities, military branches and community organizations.
For just $40 in additional fees, of which $25 goes to the group plate sponsor, a motorist can cruise around Northwest Indiana showing his or her support for the National Rifle Association, bike trails, Valparaiso University, breast cancer awareness, police officers and dozens of other groups and causes.
But maybe not for much longer.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is leading a panel of state lawmakers reviewing whether Indiana should keep, reduce or eliminate its group license plate program and looking at who should decide whether a group gets a plate.
Soliday said he's concerned the state is handing money over to groups with license plates and never checking on how the money is spent. The oversight is needed, because there's an implied state endorsement of groups with plates, he said.
Leaders of several of those groups told the study committee earlier this month any effort to limit or terminate the group plate program would hurt their bottom lines, as license plate sales are an essential component of fundraising programs.
Prior to this year, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles typically would issue a group license plate when 500 motorists pledged to buy it.
But when the Indiana Youth Group, an Indianapolis-based gay rights organization, was issued a plate in January, the Republican-controlled General Assembly enacted a law imposing a moratorium on new group plates until July 2013.
In addition, several conservative lawmakers worked behind the scenes to revoke the gay group's plate on a technicality that also canceled the plate supporting Indiana 4-H.
Soliday, whose legislation was hijacked for the group plate moratorium, said his goal is to come up with the best process for issuing group license plates and ensuring the money raised by the plates is spent appropriately. He plans to sponsor a measure along those lines when the General Assembly convenes in January.
"My issues have nothing to do with what people want to do in their own bedroom," Soliday said.
Other lawmakers believe the General Assembly -- not the BMV -- should decide whether a group gets a license plate.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, is not among them. She said putting the Legislature in charge will all but ensure partisan politics determines whether a group license plate is issued.