- Police stand between protesters and the chamber of the Indiana House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Austin Considine
State House Democrats avoided the capitol a second full day to deny Republicans a vote on several controversial bills — including one that would destroy union negotiating power and has drawn thousands of protesters to the Statehouse since Monday.
The so-called "Right-to-Work" bill was passed by an 8-5 party-line vote in committee on Monday. House rules say a bill must be introduced to the full House within 24 hours of passing committee to receive a House vote; by leaving for Illinois, as most House Democrats did, they prevented the two-thirds House attendance needed to pass legislation, effectively killing the bill.
Reports indicate some 21 other bills were also killed by the end of the day Tuesday because of the walk-out, including some education bills and other labor-related bills.
Republican leaders have since said they will not attempt to re-introduce Right to Work this session but would like to move the bill to a study committee. Democratic insiders, however, warned that any of the ostensibly dead measures could be written-in as amendments to other bills, and that the study committee could be a simple delay tactic.
Meanwhile, crowds gathered in the Statehouse for a third day, waving signs and banners, and marching in procession through the halls. Chants of "Ditch Mitch!" "Hell no, we won't go," and "Stop corporate greed" roared through atria; union organizers wheeled in carts full of pizza; protest singers sang.
Early in the day, rumors circulated that the state had plans to use police to clear out the protesters. Rally organizers encouraged those present to sit down in anticipation.
State Sen. Terri Austin (D-Anderson), one of the few Democrats who stayed behind, rallied with protesters in support of the impromptu sit-in.
"This your house," she shouted to supporters. "We have your back. This fight is not over."
In a chance encounter at an elevator, however, Governor Mitch Daniels told NUVO there were no plans to bring in police to clear away protesters — a statement borne out by the days events, which ended without incident.
"I've said all along It's the right of people to come and make noise," Daniels said. "It's just part of the process. It's absolutely legit."
- Reacting to rumors that police may try to clear protesters from the Statehouse, demonstrators held an impromptu sit-in. By day's end, no one was forced from the Statehouse. Photo by Austin Considine
Just outside the House chamber, Dallas Greulich, a sheet metal worker from Evansville, said he had come to fight against right-to-work and a Republican-backed bill (HB 1450) that would ameliorate about $2 billion in state debt to the federal government for unemployment insurance by cutting weekly unemployment benefits.
As a union member and a seasonal worker, he said both bills would hurt his ability to earn.
"If Right to Work starts taking away jobs and starts taking away wages, everybody is going to be poor again," Greulich said.
A few feet away, Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) spoke with protesters assembled outside the House chambers. Asked about the unemployment measure, Morris said "the state of Indiana should not be the piggy bank."
Regarding the Democratic walkout, Morris said the move had undermined the democratic process he and fellow representatives were elected to conduct, which included open debate over each bill on the House floor.
"Right now we can't even do that," he said.
From an undisclosed location in Illinois, House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend) told reporters via conference call that he and the other absent Democrats had no plans to return in time for 6:00 roll call on Wednesday. Whether Democrats would return Thursday or Friday, he said, would be determined on a "day-to-day" basis.
"We hope that this time out gives some time for reflection to those who want to radicalize our state and give the public a little more understanding of some of these bills," Bauer said. "Because they've been really set down in a rapid-fire way."
According to the rules, Friday is the deadline for bills to receive a third reading and an up-or-down vote in the House. Those that don't — which includes the state budget — die where they sit.
(A law in the state constitution, however, requires the state to have a budget; deadlines can be changed to pass the budget accordingly.)
Last night, Bauer issued a list of 11 bills he said concerned Democrats, including Right to Work and a school voucher bill. Republicans have accused them of overreaching now that Right to Work has been tabled.
But Bauer argued that Right to Work was never the only issue at stake for Democrats. "(Right to Work) didn't start all this," he said. "This has been building from other radical changes, other attacks on workers."
Bauer said there was no specific trigger that would bring Democrats back, but added that they did not expect concessions on all 11 issues on his list.
"There are some that are essential," he said. "And those are the ones that are a direct attack on the workers and will be lasting."