Dems leave Indiana House, blocking GOP labor bill

Demonstrators hold up signs against the glass at the back of the House chamber at the Statehouse in Indianapolis,Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. Hundreds of union members crowded the hallways of the Statehouse Tuesday in protest of a contentious labor bill. (AP Photo/Tom Strattman)

February 22, 2011 6:53:12 PM PST
Indiana House Democrats took a page from the playbook of their counterparts in Wisconsin on Tuesday, refusing to show up and at least temporarily blocking a Republican-backed labor bill.

Nearly all stayed away from the Statehouse completely and headed more than a 100 miles west to neighboring Illinois. Only three of 40 House Democrats were in the chamber when Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried repeatedly to convene it, leaving the chamber short of the two-thirds needed for a quorum.

It was unclear when the Democrats might come back. The Democratic caucus issued a statement Tuesday night saying members had relocated to Urbana, Ill., "for the immediate future" to continue reviewing Republican proposals on public education changes and so-called right-to-work legislation that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment at most private-sector companies.

"By staying here, we will be giving the people of Indiana a chance to find out more about this radical agenda and speak out against it," the statement said. "We will remain here until we get assurances from the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma that these bills will not be called down in the House at any time this session."

Because House Democrats skipped the entire day's floor session before Bosma adjourned Tuesday night, the right-to-work legislation missed a procedural deadline for further consideration. However, Republicans could find other ways to consider it later.

While the desks of 37 Democratic legislators were empty, several hundred union members crowded the adjourning hallways and held up signs to windows looking into the House with slogans such as "Stop the War on Workers."

It was the second day of large union crowds at the Statehouse, with the spark being a GOP-led committee on Monday taking up the right-to-work legislation.

Wisconsin's Senate hasn't been able to take up a bolder measure that would strip nearly all public employees' bargaining rights since that chamber's Democrats left the state Thursday.

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had urged GOP legislators not to act on the right-to-work bill this year, told reporters that the absence of Democrats on Tuesday was a legitimate move and that he would not use state troopers to compel their attendance. Daniels had said he was worried that acting on the contentious right-to-work issue could derail other parts of his legislative agenda.

"I trust people's consciences will bring them back to work," Daniels said. "I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty, the jobs that they're paid to do."

Union groups also oppose bills restricting teacher collective bargaining rights, expanding charter schools and reducing jobless benefits for some people as part of a plan to fix the state's debt-ridden unemployment insurance fund.

Minority walkouts in the Indiana House have happened periodically in the past, including in 2001 by Republicans and 2005 by Democrats.

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