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House passes right-to-work bill 

Democrats open Indiana House chamber doors for right-to-work debate from The Statehouse File on Vimeo.

By Samm Quinn

The House passed a right-to-work bill 54-43 Wednesday after a chaotic debate that included union workers yelling through the chamber's door to try to drown out Republicans who support the legislation.

House Bill 1001 will now moves to the Senate, which has already passed an identical bill. Democrats in the Senate don't have the numbers to stop it.

click to enlarge House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, did not insist Wednesday that the doors be closed at the back of the House chamber, even though the roars from protestors drowned out some of the debate.
  • House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, did not insist Wednesday that the doors be closed at the back of the House chamber, even though the roars from protestors drowned out some of the debate.
  • Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

The House debate took place after Democrats returned to the floor Wednesday following a two-day boycott over the contentious right-to-work bill and held open the chamber's door as Republicans tried to debate the controversial legislation.

House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said he was proud of the fight his caucus put forth to try and stop passage of right to work, which would free workers from paying fees to unions they don't join, even if those groups represent them.

Bauer said he was proud too of the Democrats members who opened the door so the protestors could be hear.

"Thank god for the courage of two of our members for opening the door," he said. "That's a good thing."

The door is never kept open when lawmakers are in session, but Democrats – who have tried everything to try to stop the bill – cited a provision of the Indiana Constitution that they say requires the door to be open.

Initially, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, asked that the door be closed. But when Democrats failed to comply, he opted to just leave it open.

click to enlarge Union protestors crowded around an open door at the back of the Indiana House chamber Wednesday as lawmakers tried to debate a right-to-work bill. Democrats opened the door, which allowed the protestors to drown out some of the debate.
  • Union protestors crowded around an open door at the back of the Indiana House chamber Wednesday as lawmakers tried to debate a right-to-work bill. Democrats opened the door, which allowed the protestors to drown out some of the debate.
  • Photo by Zach Osowski, The Statehouse File.

"You have to pick your battles," he said.

Union members in the hallway roared their frustration about the bill, a sound that echoed through the chamber and drowned out debate.

Inside, five Republicans joined Democrats in voting no. But Republicans still had enough to pass the legislation. Bosma said he's confident the bill will lead to job creation.

"It's not a silver bullet. It's one more opportunity for employers to take a hard look at Indiana," he said. "I think this announces, especially in the Rust Belt, that we are open for business here."

Republican Reps. Ed Sioliday, of Valparaiso, Tom Dermody, of La Porte, Mike Karickhoff, of Kokomo, and Ron Bacon, of Chandler, all opposed the bill. Otherwise, the vote fell along party lines.

"People have the right to differ in their opinions and we respect them in that regard," Bosma said. "People voted their consciences and this policy is moving forward."

Protesters shouted loudly as both Democrats and few Republicans spoke on the bill.

Some shouted "Hitler" as House Republicans debated Democrats, but Bosma continued House business with the door open.

click to enlarge Rep. David Neizgodski, D-South Bend, explained his opposition to right-to-work legislation Wednesday after Democrats came to the House floor willing to vote on the measure.

With Democrats providing a quorum – a rarity this session – the Republican-controlled House had initially turned to legislation that had languished during the standoff. But at 2:30 p.m., the House started debating the right-to-work bill, amid the union jeers.

Rep. Gerald Torr, R-Carmel, could scarcely be heard over chants of "no right to work" from protestors as he introduced his bill.

"This bill has nothing to do with busting unions," Torr said. "I'm convinced that it will bring jobs and employers to Indiana."

Bauer said that if Republicans vote for right to work they should scream that they are voting for less.

"This is right to work for less," Bauer said. "Less pay, less health care and less safety."

"We don't want minimum wage jobs in Indiana," Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said. "If that's what you want for Indiana, you should be voting for this bill, but I don't think we want that for the people we represent."

Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said his father and grandfather were union members and the right-to-work bill was a embarrassment.

"I never was prouder of my dad when he walked the picket line," he said. "He stood on principle."

Pelath asked Bosma not to bring "shame" to Indiana, but Republicans say the legislation is not a shame.

"The sky will not fall the day after right to work passes," said Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand. "Not a single right-to-work state has chosen to return to their non right-to-work status. Twenty-two states are still right-to-work."

Soliday was the only Republican to speak at the microphone against right-to-work.

He said his colleagues have shown respect for his difference of opinion.

"I've dealt with unions most of my life, I've been a member of a union," Soliday said. "I'm not ashamed of that."

He said he planned to vote his conscience, which was a "no" vote.

click to enlarge House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, yelled into the microphone Wednesday during the debate on right-to-work legislation.
  • House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, yelled into the microphone Wednesday during the debate on right-to-work legislation. Photo by Zach Osowski, The Statehouse File.
  • Photo by Zach Osowski, The Statehouse File.

"The great privilege is to be in this chamber and vote your conscience," he said. "My colleagues have respected that."

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, said she had, at first, kept an open mind on the issue but voted for the measure because she wanted to give her constituents the "freedom of choice" to pay fees to a union or not to.

But Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said he voluntarily pays dues to his union so other members can have the same workplace experience he had.

He said the union members in the hall aren't protesting so they can pay fees to union. They protest because they're afraid of what could happen to unions.

"What you're doing to the great state of Indiana, it's a shame, it's a shame, it's a shame," he said.

Democrats had walked out Monday after all seven of their amendments, including one that would have sent the right-to-work question to a referendum, were rejected by majority Republicans. They also said Bosma had denied them the chance to offer more.

But Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, was among the Democrats thought it was time to return to the floor.

"The right to work issue's one of the most important in my entire lifetime and we've worked hard to prohibit it," Moses said.

He said that he – and other Democrats – have paid fines of nearly $10,000 for their absences since last year's session.

"I do so with full responsibility and proud to do it," he said, but added it was time to return Wednesday.

"All of the amendments offered, including the referendum, which I thought was terribly important, were rejected," Moses said. "There are rules and procedures in the legislature and we were nearing the end of that availability of procedures."

Moses said many Democrats shared the same feeling and Bauer made the decision for them to return.

"I think the leader made that decision after listening to many," he said. "I'm not sure which one of the discussions convinced him today was the day to do it, but we're going to vote today."

Right to work protestors outside the Indiana House - 1-25-2012 from The Statehouse File on Vimeo.

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