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Townships now have power to make licensing laws to benefit road budgets

Pennsylvania - Some citizens of Pike County may have to brush up on their driving skills if townships flex the political muscle that the state legislature recently gave them.

Effective Jan. 1, townships have been given the authority to pass an ordinance requiring operators of horse-drawn vehicles to have a license. The legislation was approved by Governor George Ryan in July and was originally intended for townships in east-central Illinois that have large Amish populations. People in the region have complained that studded shoes the horses wear cause damage to oil and chip roads.

The new law is an addition to Illinois' Township Code, a body of laws that regulate the government of townships. According to the addition to the code, "The township board may, by ordinance, license and regulate horse-drawn vehicles operating within the township." The township may also prescribe regulations for the safe operation of those vehicles and they can also require operators of horse-drawn vehicles to take a driver's examination in order to get a license.

The state has limited the fees charged to license a horse-drawn vehicle operator to a maximum of $50 per year, and all licensing fees gained in this way must be used toward the upkeep of roads within the township. The state considers a horse-drawn vehicle to be any vehicle powered by any member of the equine family.

It is possible under the addition to the code that an operator of a horse-drawn vehicle would need multiple licenses from more than one township to travel through the county. If townships in Pike elect to implement ordinances requiring licensing, it could have financial repercussions to anyone normally operating a horse-drawn vehicle, most specifically the county's Amish population. It seems unlikely, however, that many townships in Pike that surround local Amish settlements will start any licensing ordinances.

The Amish in Pike County live mostly in and around Martinsburg Township, south of Pittsfield. When asked if the township board was planning any action regarding its new power to license, Brad Smith, board supervisor, said the issue has not yet been addressed by the township board. "It's something we'll bring up and address at the next township meeting in February," he said. "I can't speak for the board, but I doubt any action will be taken."

A similar stance was taken by Wendell Hall, supervisor of Pittsfield Township. He responded with doubts regarding implementation of any ordinance requiring licensing by Pittsfield Township. "I doubt it seriously. I'm 99 percent sure we won't do it but we will discuss it at our next meeting."

In Pleasant Hill Township, the board will be taking all factors into consideration before deciding whether or not to require licensing. Larry Skirvin, township supervisor, was unaware the addition was in effect. "This is first I've heard of it," he said. "We have a meeting tonight and we'll discuss it and talk to the community to see what they think." Newburg Township supervisor Doug Bristow could not be reached for comment.

Enforcement of any ordinance the townships might adopt would become the responsibility of the Pike County Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Paul Petty indicated that if townships in the county decide to require licensing, the sheriff's department would be obligated to serve the public with enforcement. "We would obviously have the opportunity to enforce those laws. It's all a matter of priorities and it depends on manpower. City ordinances are normally kept in city offices and enforced by city police. If townships do, in fact, decide to do that, I'm sure they would bring a copy of the law to us and we would go from there," he said.