By Samm Quinn
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, says why Democrats won't return to do business at a press conference Tuesday evening. Photo by Abigail Godwin, The Statehouse File.
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, announces Democrats will not return to the House while House Speaker Brian Bosma listens Tuesday evening. Photo by Abigail Godwin, The Statehouse File.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, addresses the Democrat boycott Tuesday evening. Photo by Abigail Godwin, The Statehouse File.
Plans for the Indiana House to vote on an amendment that would send the right-to-work issue to a statewide referendum fell apart Tuesday when Democrats boycotted for the fifth day of this year's session.
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said minority Democrats were absent because they were concerned by a note from non-partisan analysts that indicated such a referendum would violate the Indiana Constitution.
As a result, the day ended in a stalemate, and with majority Republicans promising that fines would come if Democrats were not back Wednesday.
Action on the issue was expected Tuesday because last week Democrats agreed to return to the House if majority Republicans allowed them to offer their amendment that would send right-to-work — the item that tops Republicans' agenda for this year — to a referendum.
Now, Bauer says, Democrats won't return to the chamber until they can draft a version of the referendum that is constitutional.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Bauer and his caucus broke promises they made to the public and their colleagues to participate Tuesday, and he will start imposing $1,000 fines if they are not on the floor Wednesday.
"I'm done with delays and excuses and we'll start fining tomorrow if they're not here and we'll fine every day they're absent from here on out for the rest of this General Assembly," Bosma said.
Bauer said Democrats would participate in House committee meetings and sessions related to every issue other than the right-to-work battle. On that topic, he said, they'll stay out until they've crafted a statewide referendum proposal that passes constitutional muster.
"We need time on this one bill to at least have a fair, constitutional chance to give people a voice," he said.
In a memo, the Legislative Services Agency, which is the General Assembly's non-partisan research arm, said it is "unlikely" that a statewide referendum on the right-to-work issue would be constitutional.
That, the group said, is because unlike states such as Ohio and California, Indiana's constitution does not provide for such referendums, and says the only way for laws to be enacted is for the General Assembly to pass them.
Bosma said that memo isn't pertinent, because Bauer gave his word that he and his caucus would be present Tuesday to do work on the bill. He said he agreed to hear the amendment and that he had intention to vote on the amendment Tuesday.
"We get claims that something is or is not constitutional here constantly," Bosma said. "I've made my commitment that we would debate it and vote on it É he essentially said it didn't matter."
He said his preference is for lawmakers, rather than voters, to decide the issue.
"Our state constitution very clearly holds the General Assembly responsible for statewide enactments," he said. "Apparently, Rep. Bauer came to the realization that it might put their amendment in jeopardy and decided that was enough to walk away."
Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, whose smoking ban bill was supposed to be up for amendments Tuesday, said he was unhappy with Democrats' decision.
"Rep. Bauer, I know you're listening, you gave your word," he said.
He asked Bauer and his caucus to return to the House Wednesday to conduct business on right-to-work and other bills that were halted Tuesday.
"There are a lot of other issues that are very important to your constituents and mine," he said.
Bauer said Tuesday's debate turned personal when Republicans began questioning his integrity. Bauer said Republicans broke House rules by attacking him personally rather than focusing on the policy arguments.
"They shall not impugn the integrity of the speech or judgment of the other members," Bauer said, reading from the rules. "He violated the rules. Shame on him."
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