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July 9, 2014

KITCHELL: Vanity plates indicative of humor, pride

Any Hoosier who has wanted to walk into an Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch and plunk down a little extra spendable income to reserve a specialty vanity license plate for the last year has had to deal with this reality: You can’t pay the state money to do it.

That’s because the vanity plate program has been delayed while state officials sort out the controversy over what might be considered offensive language on a license plate. Meanwhile, state coffers have suffered because Hoosiers who want to give the state their money can’t.

This story is relevant because it serves as a terrific example of how inept state government can be when it is given a challenge, even one as innocuous as determining what the rules are for spending your money on a state service.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues with license branches in this state. Hoosiers who were around in the late 1980s can recall the time when the “old boy” system of managing license branches with county political chairs and/or their spouses was ended. Then when specialty plates finally came into being with the Bayh Administration, there were those who thought we should stop selling some of the plates that weren’t popular, including the Butler University plate. That was before the Bulldogs played in two Final Fours, and you don’t hear anyone lobbying for that change now. Hoosiers who didn’t support a license plate for gay youth also made their objections known.

But when a Greenfield police officer couldn’t secure “Oink” for his plate, it set off a debate that continues. Granted, it may be offensive to some officers to be referred to as pigs, but it shouldn’t be if you own a farrow-to-finish operation that contributes to the state ag economy. Offending, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, which is to say that many license plates might be offensive to someone, somewhere, somehow. But oink, really?

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