As I mentioned in yesterday’s roundup, Indiana Democrats stalled the first session for the legislature yesterday and planned to continue that indefinitely, blocking Republicans from moving forward on a right to work bill that would crush private sector unions.
Lawmakers from the state House had blocked the bill last year through a five-week boycott during which they left the state, denying Republicans the two-thirds attendance needed to conduct business.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said Wednesday that Republicans were “railroading” the revived measure through the chamber and more public hearings should be held.
“What’s the urgency?” said Bauer, who led last year’s walkout. “They are ignoring the public input. They have not made the case that Indiana is need of an anti-paycheck bill.”
Most Indiana House Democrats were no-shows on the floor Wednesday when House Speaker Brian Bosma tried three times to gavel the House into order. He plans to try again Thursday, and said a Democratic boycott won’t lead Republicans to back off on the bill.
There’s a hearing scheduled for Friday on the right to work bill in a joint meeting of the House-Senate Labor Committee (which is unusual and a way to speed passage of the bill). Once again, without a quorum, the committee would not be able to take a vote. So far, the demand from Bauer is for more public hearings, including field hearings across the state. He does not want Democrats to leave Indiana, as they did last year for five weeks, protesting right to work and a series of other bills.
One problem for Democrats is that Indiana passed new laws around lawmaker boycotts last year in the wake of the walkout. Which is probably why you’re not going to see a mass exodus from the state. Democrats have figured out that they can rotate their ranks to get out of the fines.
After Democrats walked out last year, the Republican-led legislature adopted new fines of $1,000-a-day on each lawmaker boycotts their chamber for more than three days in a row. Concern about the 2012 elections and public response to another walkout may have made some lawmakers wary of another.
Some Democrats broke ranks throughout the day and joined Republicans in the House. Up to six Democrats could return to their seats and there would still not be enough lawmakers to conduct business.
With rules limiting the number of people who can fill the State house rescinded, protesters from organized labor and the Occupy movement packed into the building in Indianapolis and cheered on the Democrats. Already the state AFL-CIO has ads up. The Indianapolis Star has some profiles of protesters:
Hard-hatted worker Dennis Zavada, a 60-year-old Noblesville resident and member of the Operating Engineers Local 103, said Democrats were doing what they had to do.
“They are getting ramrodded,” he said, adding that Republicans would do the same thing if they were fighting for an issue they cared about.
The protesters came from all corners of the state. Among the throng, Trevor Moore, a 47-year-old United Auto Workers member from Haubstadt in southwestern Indiana, said he hoped Democrats would find a way to stop the legislation.
“I believe it’s going to hurt the middle class whether you are in a union or not,” he said.
If Democrats can refuse to gavel in the session, they begin to squeeze Republicans toward a March 14 deadline to conduct business. Already you hear some state Republicans expressing nervousness at their “long agenda” of other bills. This looks like a winnable fight especially if the public engages.