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Indiana House Speaker plans fast start for labor bill

January 3, 2012

Indiana's Republican House leader on Tuesday promised swift movement on a push to make his state the first in more than a decade to ban labor contracts that require employees to pay union fees.

Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis told The Associated Press he is confident he can push the right-to-work bill through his chamber during the 2012 session that begins Wednesday and is spending a lot "personal capital" to do so.

"We assume nothing," Bosma said. "I don't assume we have all the Republicans' votes. In fact, I know I don't and I don't presume we don't have some Democrat votes, either."

Bosma, who has been the measure's most ardent supporter, said he hadn't yet taken a formal tally of supportive votes, but added he "also wouldn't bring it forward if I wasn't confident of success."

The proposal would bar private employee unions from seeking contracts that mandate all workers pay union fees regardless of whether they are members. Supporters say the law would help attract new business to the state. Opponents call it an attempt to weaken organized labor.

Indiana's House Democrats successfully blocked the measure last year with a five-week walkout that denied House Republicans the numbers needed to conduct daily business. Democratic leaders have so far declined to say whether they will walk out again this session.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend, called the quick rollout of the measure part of a strategy to mute public dissent.

"They want to get it quickly done before the public knows what's been done to them," said Bauer, who led last year's walkout.

If Bosma and other right-to-work supporters are successful this time around, they would hand national conservatives and business groups a major win on an issue that has recently eluded them elsewhere. It also would deal another blow to organized labor, which has seen mixed results in its fight against initiatives to curb union rights nationwide that followed Republican wins in Statehouses across the country in 2010.

Indiana would become the 23rd state to enact a right-to-work law, but the first to do so since Oklahoma in 2001. More than a dozen other states considered such legislation last year, but none managed to adopt the measure. New Hampshire lawmakers came closest when they were able to pass a bill but couldn't find the votes needed to overturn a veto from Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

Republicans hold wide margins in the Indiana Assembly: 60-40 in the House and 37-13 in the Senate, and Gov. Mitch Daniels has come out with strong support for the measure.

"There's nowhere we are we closer than we are in Indianapolis," said Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, which pushes the measure in Statehouse's across the country.

The group has maintained a state executive director to coordinate volunteer support for the measure over the last few years and recently sent three or more new staff to shore up support in tough districts in Indiana.

The procedural push starts in earnest with a joint hearing of the House and Senate labor committees Friday, just two days after lawmakers return for their 2012 session. But Bosma has been pushing the measure hard since the middle of November, when he declared it would be his top legislative priority.

"We have a limited period of time to do a lot of work this session and the Super Bowl in the middle of the session complicates it just a bit," Bosma said. "There's no time to sit around and wish that things were moving forward, we're going to move them forward expeditiously."

This year's Super Bowl is Feb. 5 in Indianapolis, just a few blocks from the Statehouse.

Daniels said in a year-end interview last week that "right-to-work" should not be sped through the Assembly ahead of the Super Bowl. A spokeswoman for the governor reiterated Tuesday that the only measure Daniels "sees as tied to the Super Bowl" is human trafficking legislation.

Bosma calls right to work the "jobs bill" of the session, saying that it will attract new business to the state. Like Daniels, he has gone up on the air with TV ads pitching the bill as a tool to combat the state's 9 percent unemployment rate.

But the Indiana AFL-CIO is doing its own work running ads and targeting Republican lawmakers who could be vulnerable in the 2012 elections.

"This is a partisan smack at organized labor that is aimed to gut unions ... one of the last organizations standing in the way of corporate control," said Jeff Harris, Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman.

Union members are expected to pack the Statehouse on the legislature's opening day, although new security rules put in place by the Daniels administration could stem their presence.

Although the battle is likely to be fought primarily in the House, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the votes can't be taken for granted in his chamber.

Both Long and Bosma say they plan to move bills out of their respective chambers by a Feb. 1 filing deadline. The session ends March 14.

"March 14 will come very quickly," he said.

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