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Indiana House leaders meet over Democratic boycott

March 23, 2011

The leader of the boycotting Indiana House Democrats returned to the Statehouse on Wednesday for what he called a "very positive" meeting with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma.

Bosma met with House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, behind closed doors after the two attended another meeting with Senate leaders. Bosma and Bauer both characterized the talk as positive. Though it didn't immediately end the month-long standoff, Bosma said it seemed like a step forward.

"It's possibly the beginning of the end," Bosma said. "It's a positive step that he returned to the Statehouse. I think that's great."

Bauer described the discussion as a positive exchange of ideas over bills, mainly one changing the regulations covering wages and other matters for workers on government construction projects.

"We've had a pretty good talk with each other," Bauer said before driving back to Illinois, where most Democrats are staying during the boycott.

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he would talk to the author of the government projects bill Thursday about ideas Bauer suggested. Bauer said he would talk to his caucus after hearing back from Bosma on that bill.

Bauer said it was likely impractical for Democrats to return to the House floor on Thursday because of the lateness of the meeting and the need to discuss the issues with other House members.

Before Bauer and Bosma talked privately, they met with Senate leaders Republican David Long and Democrat Vi Simpson on a separate legal issue. Simpson described the meeting as cordial and said there was no hostility among the leaders.

"It's always a good sign when people talk," Simpson said.

The House Democrats left for Urbana, Ill., on Feb. 22 in protest of Republican-backed education and labor bills. Among them is the government projects bill. That measure, as currently written, would increase the point at which projects were exempt from the state's prevailing construction wage law from $150,000 to $1 million and remove school districts and state universities from its requirements.

After the bill became the focus of Democrats' objections, its sponsor offered to lower that level — first to $500,000 and now to $350,000 — and delete the school and university exemptions.

Bauer declined to say whether Democrats asked for the level to be lowered even further and did not outline other specific changes he wanted made to the bill.

Bosma said Democrats are "looking for as much moderation in that bill as can be tolerated."

Bauer's unannounced Statehouse trip Wednesday was a stark contrast from a visit earlier this month when photographers greeted Bauer in the parking lot. Reporters gathered inside for that meeting and watched from the doorways of Bosma's office as he and Bauer and six other lawmakers talked about proposals. Those discussions did not resolve the standoff.

When asked why he took a more secretive approach to Wednesday's meeting, Bauer said: "We're trying to bring peace."

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