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Indiana Democrats Walk Out Again to Protest Right-to-Work Legislation

After the 6-minute committee hearing in the Indiana legislature on a right-to-work bill, House Democrats have had enough, again. They have walked out of the state House for the second time in a week, denying Republicans a quorum on the legislation. This suggests that they still don’t have the votes to defeat right-to-work on the floor, and will employ extraordinary tactics to stop the bill. Protests led by labor groups continue at the state House in Indianapolis.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, tried and failed to bring the House in to session at 1:30 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m., but did not have the needed 67 lawmakers on the floor to do business.

“I guess I’m not shocked that they’re not here,” Bosma said. “But I’m certainly disappointed. … There’s a lot of important business to be conducted in the House and it all sits and waits until they return to do their job.”

House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said afterward that Democrats “had to take a time-out again” because the handling of the committee violated House rules and the constitution.

Democrats were lodging an official protest of the morning’s committee hearing to be put in the House journal, arguing that the handling of the hearing amounted to “a flagrant violation of House rules.”

The committee hearing, which didn’t allow for amendments or even debate, certainly was a sideshow. So that must have given Indiana Democrats the fig leaf they needed to walk out again. However, while they were able to come back Monday and avoid $1,000-a-day fines, if they return again in three days to avoid the fines, House Republicans would be able to quickly pass the bill on the floor. So we’re nearing an endgame.

However, Democrats are protesting the idea that House bill 1001, the right-to-work bill, made it out of committee at all, because Republicans never held a formal hearing on it. There was a hearing in the Senate Labor Committee, but not the House. There’s also a question as to whether the meeting in the Labor Committee violated open meetings rules in Indiana, in a reminder of the open meetings rules violations in Wisconsin, which derailed but ultimately did not bring down their anti-union bill.

One Democrat, Rep. Craig Fray, said of the boycott that “We have to keep fighting all the way to the Super Bowl,” and that does loom large in this fight. The Super Bowl will be held in Indianapolis, and Republicans are on the record wanting to avoid having this issue hanging out there during Super Bowl week, given all the national media attention. The NFL Players Association has already denounced the right-to-work bill.

House Democrats released this statement on the walkout:

The Democratic Caucus launched, a online petition and rallying point for Hoosier families who believe Governor Daniels, Speaker Bosma and the Republican House Caucus should focus on creating good-paying jobs, not lowering paychecks of working families across Indiana. Caucus members will be live-commentating the State of the State of the State Address on the site.

Democratic Leader Bauer said, “Working families want good-paying jobs, not lower paychecks. Their response to the Governor is simple – Don’t Touch My Paycheck. Instead of playing partisan, political games, let’s work together to boost our small businesses, support our workers, and create jobs right here in Indiana.”

The question is whether Democrats can hold out and withstand fines, breaking the will of Republicans to pass the legislation. Stay tuned.

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David Dayen

David Dayen