Democratic House lawmakers in Indiana walked out again to protest a right-to-work bill, after there were signs of a deal on a vote this week. Republicans in the House approved $1,000-a-day fines for the lawmakers. Understand that in Indiana, legislators only make about $23,000 a year.
The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees.
The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.
Democrats want a public vote on the right-to-work legislation, which would allow workers to reap the benefits of union membership without having to pay union dues. They want a referendum on the November ballot, which Republicans oppose. On this point, Democrats have the public on their side, according to a new poll showing that a majority would like a public vote:
Fifty-three percent of all voters want their legislator to vote for a public referendum so voters can make the decision, another 14 percent want their legislator to oppose it outright, and a mere 26 percent hope their legislator will vote to pass the bill. Solid majorities of independents (60 percent) and Democrats (61 percent) want their legislator to refer the issue to voters. Surprisingly, only a 42 percent minority of Republican voters want their legislator to pass “right to work,” while 47 percent want their representative either to put the issue to a public vote (42 percent) or oppose it outright (5 percent).
One problem is that the Legislative Services Agency declared that the Democratic version of the referendum legislation violated the Indiana Constitution. So Democrats wanted more time to draft a Constitutionally appropriate proposal. Republicans wanted to start work on the bill today, so they agreed to impose the fines when Democrats continued their delay, by staying out of the House chamber to deny Republicans a quorum.
Before this week, the deal put in place looked like it would secure passage of the legislation. Now that’s up in the air, with Democrats holding the political high ground and Republicans trying to fine lawmakers into compliance.
But I’m not sure this will work out for the Democrats. There is no provision in the state Constitution to deal with Constitutional amendments through a referendum. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said he would have allowed a vote on the referendum anyway, suggesting he has the votes to stop it, and to pass right-to-work through normal means. And Democrats have basically agreed to allow a vote at some point. So the argument is basically over the details, and while the protests in Indianapolis have been inspiring, I don’t see a means for them to succeed, failing total war.