INDIANAPOLIS | The possibility of Griffith leaving Calumet Township and joining another faded significantly Wednesday after a Senate committee substituted new limits on township poor relief spending for House-approved Griffith separation legislation.
State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1585, said he changed the proposal to address the Griffith-Calumet Township issue "in a different fashion, and yet no less dramatic fashion."
Under the revised legislation, which must be approved by a second committee before going to the full Senate, a township whose assistance tax collections are more than 10 times the state average would have three years to reduce that amount.
The new limit would affect not only Calumet Township but also Lake County's North Township and dozens of large, urban townships across Indiana.
A township that fails to bring its assistance collections below 10 times the state average by 2016 could be designated a distressed political subdivision and have its operations taken over by an emergency manager tasked with cutting spending by the state's Distressed Unit Appeals Board.
"This amendment is an appropriate attempt to try and bring the situation under control in a reasonable way without wading into the political boundary issue," Hershman said.
Griffith and Calumet Township officials, who were prepared to debate the separation issue before the Senate Local Government Committee, were taken aback when the committee accepted Hershman's changes without debate.
The panel later voted 8-1 to send the measure to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.
However, during testimony on the revised proposal, two state lawmakers on opposite sides of the issue discovered they both don't like parts of the new plan.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, sponsor of the House version of the legislation, said not only does Griffith still need a way to escape Calumet Township, but he also does not support a hard cap on poor relief spending.
"We could have some reasonably efficient urban townships that would have to reduce their poor relief budgets, just because," Slager said. "That's not our goal."
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she was relieved Griffith "secession" is out of the legislation, but she wants a more precise definition of what counts as poor relief spending.
"I think if some of those questions can be answered in terms of how you differentiate between poor relief and administrative, that would go a long way to make it palatable," Rogers said.
The legislation is likely to be further revised prior to a final vote by the full Senate.
If approved, lawmakers from the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to devise a compromise proposal that still could include a procedure for Griffith to separate from Calumet Township, which also contains parts of Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County.