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Indiana House Democrats Returning from Self-Imposed Exile

AP gets the news that House Democrats in Indiana will return from Illinois, where they have been camped out for close to a month, denying a quorum on several key bills in the Legislature. It’s unclear from their report what kind of deal has been struck, however.

Bauer and most House Democrats had stalled action in the Indiana House after fleeing on Feb. 22 to the Illinois hotel to protest 11 pieces of legislation. The state constitution requires a quorum to conduct any official business, and the impasse had the potential to force a special session or even a government shut down if a new budget wasn’t adopted before July 1.

Since the walkout began, Republicans have killed a “right-to-work” proposal that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment and have agreed to changes on several other bills, such as capping the number of students who could use taxpayer money to attend private schools through a controversial voucher program […]

Despite the delay, House Republicans won’t have to remove much from their agenda because the only bill that was actually killed by the walkout was the “right-to-work” proposal. Republicans in the House and Senate have assured Democrats the issue will not be resurrected this year, and Bosma extended deadlines for other measures.

While the right-to-work bill died, then, the other bills are likely to pass in an altered form. The Indianapolis Star has a bit more information on what will change, if anything, on the remaining bills.

(Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma) said that one additional adjustment to House Bill 1216 also was made. That bill affects union jobs and wages on public construction projects. The bill as introduced raised the projects the law applies to from the current $150,000 to $1 million. Republicans have agreed to drop that to $350,000, and in a final change that helped the Democrats come back that will be phased in over two years.

And for their trouble, House Democrats will still be fined $350 a day for missing legislative sessions.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette hints at some changes on the school voucher bill, but doesn’t specify.

The Indiana walkout was always something of a stepsister to the Wisconsin walkout. And this one seems like a labor strike where the workers get worn down over a number of weeks by attrition. There are a couple face-saving measures here – the killing of the right-to-work bill happened immediately – but basically, House Democrats are returning to session to watch as Republicans pass a far-right agenda.

Of course, the situation is slightly different in Indiana, which is substantially more conservative than other Midwest states, and where Governor Mitch Daniels had already denied public employees collective bargaining rights years ago.

The aftermath of this walkout, and how Indiana Democrats react in an electoral context, is going to be pretty important.

UPDATE: By contrast, Evan McMorris-Santoro claims that Democrats made out pretty well on the deal. The pretty strict limits on the school vouchers sound OK, as well as the nixing of a plan to let private companies take over failing schools. But the labor concessions aren’t really concessions, as Gov. Daniels never wanted to take them up in the first place. So while on education, Republicans only get half a victory, it still looks to me to be a victory for them.

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David Dayen

David Dayen