Indiana House Panel Rejects Local Government Revamp
After some bumbling and rumbling, a Democratic-controlled Indiana House committee dealt a blow Tuesday to efforts to reorganize local government -- a top legislative priority of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The Government and Regulatory Reform Committee voted to combine five local government bills into one, and then one Republican joined six Democrats in defeating the bill, preventing it from getting to the full House. The move outraged one GOP member, who joined a few other Republicans in declining to vote on the revamped legislation.
Each of the five bills originated in the Republican-led Senate, but one to consolidate some small school districts never cleared that chamber, and many provisions in the others were changed significantly. House Democrats sought to combine the bills in their original form into a single bill.
The bills initially would have eliminated township government, nixed three-member county commissions in favor of a single county executive, and required library districts to consider consolidating, among other things. The bills stemmed from recommendations made by a commission created by Daniels and led by former Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard.
The legislation could be revived late in the session, but House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said all along that he did not consider major restructuring of local government to be a high priority this session.
Marilyn Schultz, executive director Mysmartgov.org, a group lobbying for the Kernan-Shepard recommendations, said it was clear that the intent was to kill the legislation in the House.
"Let's figure out a way we can kill this in an unusual way," Schultz, a former Democratic legislator and state budget director, said in describing the political maneuvering.
"I think there were members of both caucuses who were getting a lot of heat from their constituents because they really want to see reform, and so this was, you know, kind of a storefront hearing so they can say they gave it consideration, and nobody was in favor."
The governor's office declined to comment on the committee's actions.
A first vote on amending the original bills into one failed on a 6-6 vote, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans against. If the 244-page amendment had passed, it later could have died of its own weight -- containing too many provisions for a majority of the House to pass as a whole.
Democrats control the chamber 52-48.
Democratic Rep. John Bartlett of Indianapolis, chairman of the committee, called a 10-minute recess after the tie vote to confer with House leaders on how to proceed. The panel then heard public testimony, much of it from township trustees who opposed elimination of township government, before voting again on whether to amend the bills into one.
The panel voted 7-5 to do that, with three Republicans joining four Democrats in favor. The panel then voted whether to endorse the overall bill.
Six Democrats and one Republican -- Rep. Tim Neese of Elkhart -- voted against the bill. Democratic Rep. John Barnes of Indianapolis voted for the bill, but Rep. Phil Hinkle of Indianapolis and the other Republicans walked out, with Hinkle demanding with shouts to meet privately to discuss matters.
Bartlett then slapped down the gavel and declared the bill dead. He blamed Republicans for killing it.
"The Kernan-Shepard report was the report that the governor gave us," Bartlett said. "So the amendment included everything he was asking for. Then the Republicans didn't want to support that. So if they can't support it, then we couldn't support it."
Hinkle had asked that a vote on the amended bill be delayed.
"I really question the assumption that we on the Republican side of the aisle aren't willing to step up to the plate and support some of the Kernan-Shepard report," he said.