A dispatch from Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS — When the Democrats showed up on the Indiana House floor today, most of the drama went out the window.
According to most observers, the biggest obstacle in the way of Indiana becoming a right-to-work state was a threatened walk-out by House Democrats. But faced with $1,000 per-day fines, for what would basically have been a work stoppage, the Democrats backed down.
Now that the Democrats have returned, right-to-work legislation is expected to begin moving in both the House and Senate. The legislation could be well on its way to Gov. Mitch Daniels by the end of the week or next week. If House and Senate bills differ, however, it could take somewhat longer for a finalized measure to reach Daniels’ desk.
Indiana Senate Bill 269, passed last Friday in the state Senate Pensions and Labor Committee, would make it a Class A misdemeanor to require an individual to join or remain in a union or to pay any dues, fees or other charges to that same labor organization.
The legislation would not apply to public-sector employees. Daniels essentially established right-to-work status for Indiana’s public sector in 2005 by executive order.
In spite of the Democrats' return, some bumps could still appear in Indiana’s road to right-to-work status.
It’s expected that an amendment to exempt trade unions from the legislation will be offered in the Senate. If that were to pass, it could well mean that House and Senate versions of the legislation wouldn’t mesh and several more weeks would be needed to get a final version completed.
Another potential problem could arise if the Democrats decide to walk out again, but at the moment that does not appear to be likely.
“The return of the Democrats means that we can now get to work on right-to-work and other good conservative legislation,” Republican Sen. Jim Banks told Capitol Confidential. “It will be good to get back to work.”
Republicans hold commanding majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate. Their 37-13 margin in the Senate is enough to create a quorum whether any Democrats are present or not. In the Indiana House, Republicans hold a 60-40 majority. That's seven shy of the 67 required for a House quorum. Last year, House Democrats ran away to Illinois rather than allow a vote to be taken in the House on right-to-work legislation.
After that happened, the Republicans pushed through legislation to fine members $1,000 a day if their unexcused absences prevented quorums. What’s more, according to polling, last year's walk-out by the Democrats was very unpopular with Hoosier State voters.
The House version of right-to-work legislation, House Bill 1001, is expected to be brought up in Committee on Tuesday.