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No breakthrough in talks to end Indiana House walkout

March 24, 2011

Legislators from both parties threw cold water Thursday on optimism about a breakthrough ending the month-long boycott by Indiana House Democrats.

Most Democratic representatives fled to Illinois on Feb. 22 to hold up what they consider anti-labor legislation. Work in the House has been mostly stalled since then with too few members present to conduct business.

On Thursday, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma downplayed a private meeting he had at the Statehouse a day earlier with Democratic leader Patrick Bauer — just their second face-to-face talk since the Democrats left their jobs.

"We're exactly where we've been," Bosma said. "We continue to hope that Democrats will return."

The legislative standoff will continue until at least Monday, the next time the House is scheduled to be in session.

Bosma said he didn't have plans to talk to Bauer on Thursday. Wednesday's meeting included discussion on a bill changing the regulations covering wages and other matters for workers on government construction projects. That was one of the bills that led to the Democrats' decision to start boycotting the House session.

Democratic Rep. Scott Pelath of Michigan City, one of two boycotters on the House floor to make sure no action is taken without enough members present, said the meeting between Bosma and Bauer was positive and it would be good for the two party leaders to keep talking.

"We always have to guard against too much optimism because that's not helpful," he said.

Bosma said he would review his conversation with Bauer for Republican House members and the sponsor of the government projects bill.

That proposal would prohibit government units from requiring contractors to have agreements with labor unions on large construction projects. It also would increase the cost level at which projects would be exempt from the state's prevailing construction wage law.

"I've never said there was no room for compromise, but I'm not conducting some big, secret backroom deal that's going to solve the world's problems here," Bosma said.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said ending the boycott wasn't as important as finding middle ground on the education and labor issues that prompted the walkout.

"I'm not pressing the leader for a date certain" to return, Brown said. "It's best that whoever is involved in those negotiations keep it as close to the vest as possible so it doesn't blow up."

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