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Indiana House speaker set to fine boycotters

March 3, 2011

Indiana's Republican House speaker says he's ready to fine and formally censure Democrats boycotting the Statehouse.

Most House Democrats skipped Thursday morning's floor session, extending their stay at an Urbana, Ill., hotel to an 11th day and preventing action on labor and education bills they oppose.

House Speaker Brian Bosma says Democratic leader Patrick Bauer has told him the boycotting members will not return Friday either.

Bosma says he'll release details of the proposed fines Thursday but that he'll wait until Monday before imposing them.

Democratic Rep. Kreg Battles of Vincennes says threatening fines won't resolve the legislative dispute that prompted the boycott.

Such fines have been threatened in previous House walkouts over the years, but have been waived when the minority party returns.

Bauer drove back from Illinois and met with Bosma for 50 minutes Wednesday in the GOP leader's Statehouse office. Bauer had two other House Democrats with him in the meeting, which also was attended by four other majority Republicans.

Most House Democrats have been staying in Urbana since last Tuesday, when they began boycotting the House to derail labor and education bills by denying the House the quorum needed to conduct business. The boycott already killed a "right-to-work" bill that unions opposed.

The meeting signaled improving relations for the leaders involved in the ongoing impasse. But it's not clear what the talks actually accomplished. Bauer has repeatedly said he wants to negotiate on GOP-proposals that Democrats consider an assault on the middle class. And Bosma has repeatedly said he'll talk to Bauer, but won't negotiate a back room deal or agree to take GOP proposals off the table.

Republicans are already planning changes to a private school voucher bill that Democrats oppose. The bill would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. Bosma said the bill needs to be changed to get enough support from his own caucus to pass, and Republicans will introduce an amendment limiting the number of students who can participate in the program and adding more restrictive income level requirements. Bauer said Tuesday that those changes were a good step forward.

The Democrats' boycott has already killed a "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment. Republicans say they won't try to resurrect that proposal this year. Bosma says he will not allow the boycott to kill other bills and plans to extend legislative deadlines to keep the other proposals on the House calendar alive as long as necessary.

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