Indiana township merger bill fails without legislative vote

A proposal that would have forced government mergers on about 300 small Indiana townships has died in the Legislature without a vote.

The bill wasn't called for a vote by Monday night's deadline for the Indiana House to act on it during this year's legislative session. Republican House leaders had made the proposal one of their top 2018 priorities, but House Speaker Brian Bosma said it didn't gain enough support among GOP legislators from rural districts.

"I felt good about this one going in, but clearly people heard from their constituents at home that were concerned about it," Bosma said.

The plan would have required consolidation by townships with fewer than 1,200 residents — or about 30 percent of the state's 1,005 townships.

Indiana's township system was established in the 1800s, but most of their responsibilities for schools, roads and other services have been taken over by school districts, counties and cities over the decades. Their typical duties now are mostly providing temporary housing, utility or food assistance to low-income residents and fire protection in rural areas.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other advocates of township consolidation argued it would lead to cost savings and better services in areas with few residents.

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said he regretted the action by Republicans who dominate the House membership.

"They chose the status quo and keeping a system from the 1800s instead of modernizing local government services," he said in a statement.

Township supporters maintain that it is the level of government closest to the people and questioned whether focusing only on the smallest townships would result in much savings.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Cindy Ziemke of Batesville said she didn't want to force a vote on the bill only to see it defeated.

"I still believe it would be the best thing for Indiana to do it," Ziemke said. "And it certainly requires political will to do it, so at some point maybe they will."

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