Indiana Dems Stop Right-to-Work Debate
It's a new year with a new legislative session, but an all-too-familiar story is recurring in the Indiana Statehouse, at least from the Republican viewpoint: House Democrats once again held up any work because they oppose a GOP proposal to make Indiana a right-to-work state.
Wednesday was to have been the start of the new legislative session, but House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) couldn't even call the session to order. While Republicans were ready and seated, only a few Democrats arrived to the chambers as the roll call was read about 12:30 p.m. CT.
A Democratic representative told Bosma that the party was caucusing, but something else was actually going on - Democrats were staying away.
Democratic House leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend described the action as a filibuster, not a protest or a walkout.
"We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of the decade be railroaded through with the public being denied their fair and adequate input," Bauer said. "What's the urgency? Are they ignoring the public input? They have not made the case that Indiana is in dire need of an anti-paycheck bill."
Bauer said unless GOP leaders agree to hold hearings throughout the state on the right-to-work bill, Democrats won't be coming back anytime soon.
"The public needs to be informed. The process [by the Republicans] is to avoid the public," Bauer said.
Bauer said the Democrats plan to remain in the Indiana Statehouse, unlike last year, when they fled to Urbana, Illinois. They returned some five weeks later, when Republican leaders abandoned their right-to-work proposals.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said Democrats shouldn't expect the same outcome.
"That was an accommodation that was made last year," Bosma said. "This is the number one jobs issue that we can address this session and the number one issue is jobs. These are middle class jobs that we're talking about. It's about personal freedom."
If adopted, right-to-work legislation would prohibit an employer from forcing an employee to pay union dues as a condition of employment if a union is already in place. About two dozen states, mostly outside the industrial Midwest, now have such laws in place. Democrats say the bill would undermine unions that, by federal law, must represent all employees - even ones who are not union members and pay no dues.
Wedneseday's action drew thousands of pro-union representatives to the Indiana Statehouse, many of whom chanted down Republicans and hailed Democratic efforts.
"It's a shame to think that we're going to lose our benefits and our health insurance," said Chris Roark, a Teamster union member from Gary, Indiana. "They think this bill is going to help Indiana. It's not going to help Indiana."
Northwest Indiana's Democratic contingent opposes the bill. They're joined by at least one Republican House member from the region: Ed Soliday of Valparaiso.
"I will vote against it," Soliday said. "I don't see what we get for it. I'm not convinced of what I've seen. I don't provoke labor. There's no point. I have an honest disagreement with some of my colleagues."
Republican Speaker Bosma tried three times Wednesday afternoon to gavel the House into order, but each time no more than five of the 40 Democratic members were on the floor.
Bosma said he'll try to have the House meet again Thursday.