INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's House speaker said Wednesday he won't concede to Democrats who fled the state to block contentious labor and education proposals — a strategy employed first last week in Wisconsin, where a legislative stalemate continues.
Like the Wisconsin Senate Democrats, most Indiana House Democrats fled to neighboring Illinois in an effort to block votes on what they viewed as threatening legislation, denying the chamber the quorum needed to conduct business.
Democrats want Republicans to drop efforts to push a voucher bill that would direct taxpayer money to private schools and a so-called "right-to-work" bill that prohibits union membership from being a condition of employment.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he talked to House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, by phone on Wednesday morning.
"As Rep. Bauer started going through his list, I just told him that we weren't going to concede to a list of demands, and that he needed to get back here," Bosma told reporters.
He said he told Bauer if those requirements weren't acceptable, "Have fun in Illinois."
Although Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker has pledged to push through legislation that would eliminate the bargaining rights of most unionized public workers, Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is signaling he wants to avoid such a showdown. He urged GOP legislators not to act on the right-to-work bill this year for fear that the contentious issue would derail other parts of his agenda.
The bill died Tuesday when it failed to meet a legislative deadline because Democrats were gone, and Republican leaders in both the House and Senate said it would not be resurrected into another bill. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he'll instead propose a study committee to examine the issue over the summer.
Daniels says he won't ask state troopers to force the lawmakers' return, but Bosma was considering options for fining them.
While the Wisconsin Democrats remain in an undisclosed location somewhere near Chicago, the Indiana Democrats were in the central Illinois city of Urbana, not far from the Indiana border. State Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, said the 30-plus Democrats were discussing negotiating strategy Wednesday during a closed-door caucus session at an Urbana hotel.
Long said it was a "mistake" for his fellow Republicans in the House to take up the proposal and called it a "tactic" for Democrats to walk out to kill the right-to-work bill. But he said House Democrats now need to return to work so they don't derail other important bills, including the state budget.
"That's impossible to justify," he said.
House Democrats also want Republicans to drop the voucher bill, but Bosma said he would not negotiate to take items off the House agenda.
"The negotiation takes place on the floor of the House," Bosma said. "This isn't the old back room deals that Rep. Bauer's used to cutting."
The voucher bill faces a procedural deadline Thursday, so if Democrats came back by then it could proceed. Bosma said he hoped that cooler heads prevail in the Democratic caucus and that at least enough members for a quorum would return to the Statehouse soon.
Democrats say Republicans are overreaching and are pushing a "radical" agenda that amounts to an attack on education and workers.
"Indiana House Democrats will continue to deliberate on these issues until their full implications are grasped and debated," Democrats said in a statement Tuesday.
Bosma tried to convene the House again Wednesday morning, but most Democrats were again absent. Several hundred union workers who support the Democrats' boycott packed the hallways outside House chambers and crowded the gallery looking down on the House floor. Demonstrating seemed to escalate.
Workers outside the House chanted "Save our schools!" as a rabbi was delivering a prayer before House members. Bosma later apologized to the rabbi for the "disrespect." Workers chanted "Hell no, we won't go!" as lawmakers recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
After Bosma drew a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers when he said he wouldn't concede to Democrat demands, union members in the House gallery quickly started booing. Bosma later had the gallery cleared and said he may order it closed during House meetings later Wednesday because of the vocal demonstrations.
Union groups planned rally events throughout the day at the Statehouse.
"We're getting our voices heard, which is our objective," Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said. "We want to make sure it's the people's business that's being done rather than the business of the large corporate CEOs."
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