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Indiana Senate backs setting daily fines for boycotts

April 20, 2011

Republican frustration over the five-week walkout by Indiana House Democrats re-emerged Wednesday as the state Senate approved a method for $1,000-a-day fines against boycotting legislators.

The action threatened the calm that has existed in the House since the Democrats returned March 28, with the Democratic leader saying he wasn't sure how his members would respond and that he believed such fines could violate the state constitution.

The Senate voted 36-0 to add the provision to the state budget bill after Democratic senators left the floor in protest. The measure would allow a resident of a boycotting legislator's district to ask a judge to fine lawmakers who were unexcused for three or more days in order to leave too few members present to conduct business.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said the provision was needed to prevent such boycotts from becoming a regular tactic by legislators.

"It has set a terrible example, in my opinion, to the rest of the nation," Long said. "It cannot be allowed to occur."

Most House Democrats spent five weeks in Urbana, Ill., to protest education- and labor-related bills backed by majority Republicans, leaving the House with too few members to conduct official business.

Republicans imposed $250-a-day fines against the absent Democrats two weeks into the boycott and increased the fines to $350 for the final week. Those fines topped $3,000 for most of the Democrats.

House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said soon after the Senate vote that he would have to meet with his members before deciding what action they would take and that he didn't know whether another walkout was possible with just more than a week remaining before the Legislature's April 29 adjournment deadline.

Bauer said Republicans were "out of whack."

"They've gone to such a radical extreme that some of these punitive measures that they try to dream up are more important to them than people having jobs, people putting food on the table," Bauer said. "I think the constitution would override their pouting and shouting."

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma suggested during the Democratic boycott that he was considering reviving an 1867 state law repealed in the 1970s that made it a misdemeanor with $1,000 fines for legislators to intentionally break quorum. Under the state constitution, two-thirds of legislators must be present to conduct business.

Bosma said Wednesday he hadn't advised senators on whether to proceed with the provision and wouldn't commit to supporting it.

"It might scratch a few scabs open and that's maybe not the best thing right now," Bosma said. "But we have had a lot of input from citizens over the last three months that they think some revision to the law or constitution is appropriate. If I were to pick one, I would say this is the most advisable one."

Republican Sen. Michael Young of Indianapolis, who sponsored the provision, said legislators were obligated by their oath to debate and vote on the issues.

"If I don't show up, fine me whatever it takes to get me to show up and do my job," Young said.

Democratic Sen. John Broden of South Bend told Republicans that the measure would damage the state constitutional rights of minority party legislators.

"There may be a time when the tables are turned and these unique tools of the minority party may be something that you might wish that you had not done away with so summarily," he said.

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