INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's right-to-work legislation crawled a little closer to possible final passage Monday evening. House Democrats showed up to debate the bill — offered and were defeated on their so-called “referendum amendment” — then walked out again.
Republicans hung together and voted down the “referendum amendment” at about 6:40 pm. Almost immediately after the vote was tallied, the Democrats left the chamber for a caucus.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, publicly asked House Democratic Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, how long the Democratic caucus would be — and even offered food as an enticement for the Democrats to return.
“Representative Bauer, do have any idea when you'll be returning?” Bosma asked. “We have ordered pizza.”
Rep. Bauer then suggested the House reconvene after a short break, but the Democrats didn't come back and he announced that he was “calling it a night” at about 7:35 pm.
The question at hand is whether Indiana is going to become the nation's 23rd right-to-work state. Under House Bill 1001, companies and unions would be prohibited from negotiating contracts requiring employees to join unions. Also the bill would ban requirements that non-union employees pay union dues.
Republicans control the Indiana Senate by a 37-13 margin and the House by a 60-40 margin. The only way the Democrats can stop or delay a right-to-work measure from passing is to not show up for work in the House, thereby denying that chamber its required 67-member quorum.
Indiana House Democrats skipped out on six days of the first three weeks of this year's General Assembly session. But they showed up Monday to allow a long floor debate over HB 1001, during which they offered several amendments, including the one to place the issue on the November ballot.
This so-called “referendum amendment” would have required Indiana voters to basically ratify or reject the right-to-work legislation roughly one day after it became law. For the past week the Democrats had been touting the idea and claiming that if Republicans rejected it they would be robbing the voters of “their right” to have the final say.
Today, the amendment was offered by Rep. Winfield Moses, D-Fort Wayne, and it was debated for more than a hour on the House floor. Much of the debate consisted of Republicans arguing that the House should not surrender its responsibility to decide the issue. Meanwhile, about twice as many Democrats came to the microphone and argued that the voters of Indiana should be allowed to weigh in.
Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, pointed out that there was no talk of a referendum when Indiana's right-to-work law was scrapped by Democratic legislative majorities 47 years ago.
“In 1965, right-to-work was repealed in Indiana when the Democrats held the majority here,” Rep. Foley said. “There was no talk then about that change being repealed. There wasn't any public discussion about a referendum, or a move to have a referendum.”
Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, argued for the referendum amendment. A portion of his floor speech included his plea for a compromise in starkly partisan language.
“We see Democrats determined that this bill will not pass and those on the other side just as determined that it will,” Rep. Kersey said. “Both sides are paying millions for ads. Some of which say that Indiana should become a right-to-work for less state; others that it should remain a free state. This amendment offers a compromise."
The time frame for getting the legislation to Gov. Mitch Daniels is short. Indiana has a part-time Legislature and session ends in mid-March. Today's action moved House Bill 1001 up to the status of being ready for a final vote on passage. That vote would be the next step — if and when the Democrats return to work.
Last year, Indiana Democrats stayed away from the General Assembly for five weeks and prevented right-to-work legislation from passing. Subsequent polling showed that the tactic was very unpopular with voters. In addition, a new law this year allows legislators to be fined $1,000 per day if they refuse to come to work and prevent sessions from taking place.
Also Monday, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 to pass its version (Senate Bill 269) of right-to-work legislation. At this juncture, however, it appears that the House version will be the one that actually drives the issue.