INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana House Democrats are now saying they'll show up for work today.
If the Democrats keep their promise this time, the Indiana House would hold a debate today on a right-to-work measure. Basically, the debate would be the same one Democrats promised would take place last Tuesday — but then walked away from.
At issue is whether or not Indiana will become the nation's 23rd right-to-work state. Under the legislation (House Bill 1001), companies and unions would be prohibited from negotiating contracts requiring employees to join unions. Also, any requirements that non-union employees pay union dues would be banned.
A walk-out by the Democrats last week prevented any action being taken on HB 1001. Republicans hold a 60-40 majority in the House, but need at least seven Democrats to be present to provide the quorum required to hold session. This ability to deny a quorum was used last year by the Democrats to stop similar legislation, and they've already used it six times this year.
Democrats have have said the reason for last week's work stoppage around their support for an amendment to HB 1001 that would require state voters to either ratify the bill or reject it. This is being referred to as a “referendum” amendment.
At the moment, the House Democrats' strategy appears to be aimed at keeping the focus on the “referendum” amendment and off the overall bill. In many respects they appear to be succeeding in this goal.
“If you want to make it high noon Monday, we will be here,” Indiana House Democratic Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said Sunday in a statement directed at the Republicans.
Bauer's “high noon” reference, however, was about the referendum amendment, rather than a final vote on the bill.
If the delayed floor debate does take place on Monday, the vote on this referendum amendment will likely be the crux of the story. If — as might be expected — the Republicans defeat the amendment, the next question would be whether Democrats would walk out again when the time comes (later this week) to vote on the actual bill.
Rep. Bauer made his promise that the Democrats would return to work on Monday in a somewhat bizarre public negotiation, with reporters present, in the House chamber. This negotiation included House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, promising Bauer that the referendum amendment would not be ruled out of order.
Meanwhile, the $1,000 per day fines that have been levied against House Democrats for preventing quorums by not showing up to work was in force for a third day on Friday. That means roughly 35 House Democrats currently owe $3,000 each.
A lower court judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Republicans from having the money deducted from at least two Democrats’ paychecks. More Democrats are expected to join that suit challenging the deductions.
So far, action on the Senate version of the right-to-work legislation (Senate Bill 269) has taken a back seat to the drama playing out in the House. Supporters of the measure are hoping a clean, or unamended, version of HB 1001 will eventually be passed by the House. Key procedural problems could potentially be eliminated if that were to happen.