Indiana House Republicans are hoping $1,000-a-day fines they voted to impose Wednesday break the boycott by Democratic legislators who are fighting the divisive right-to-work bill.
House Democrats are challenging the new fines in court. Republicans voted to impose the fines Wednesday morning while most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda surrounded by cheering labor union supporters instead of showing up in the chamber.
The Republicans voted to approve the fines as part of a resolution that accused the boycotting Democrats of "dereliction of their duty." The only shouts of "no" in the voice vote came from among the five Democratic representatives not taking part in the boycott.
Most of the 40 House Democrats have prevented legislative action for five of the 10 days that the House has tried to meet for its 2012 session — typically by remaining in closed-door meetings in conference rooms around the Statehouse.
They resumed their walkout Tuesday after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on proposed amendments to the bill, which bans employment contracts with mandatory union fees. At that point, Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said fines would begin if not enough Democrats showed up for the amendment debate on Wednesday.
Bosma rejected the Democrats' request for more time for lawyers to draft a revised referendum amendment.
"We've given them an extensive amount of time; they asked for it and we gave it to them," Bosma said Wednesday. "Now there is another item they need more time on. It's just a delay tactic."
The Democrats began their Rotunda meeting surrounded by a few hundred union supporters, with several dozen more watching from the balconies above.
"We are simply asking Brian Bosma to hold House Bill 1001 (right-to-work) so we can get an amendment presented on the floor so the people of the state of Indiana have a voice," Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said to cheers from union protesters.
A legal challenge of the fines by Democrats would be similar to one pending in court regarding smaller fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott over a version of the right-to-work proposal and other Republican-backed labor bills.
House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said the court challenge could be filed as soon as later Wednesday.
Bosma said he intended to begin withholding the fines immediately from the paychecks of those boycotting and that he believes the deductions are legal.
Bauer said Democratic lawyers were working on a new proposal for a statewide referendum after a review by the state's nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which drafts bills for lawmakers and provides legal advice, found that the Indiana Constitution "does not include a referendum option" and that it is unlikely voters could have the final say on statewide legislation.
That opinion is being used to sway Republican legislators who might support holding a referendum to vote against it on the House floor, Bauer said.
"When you tell somebody that it's unconstitutional, that's a pretty good argument not to vote for it," he said. "I know members over there think the public should have an opportunity. This just threw a bomb into the middle of the proceedings."
Several of the boycotting Democrats took part in committee meetings held around the Statehouse after two failed attempts at a floor session Wednesday, but Bosma turned down an offer from Bauer that Democrats would return to the House on bills other than the right-to-work proposal.
"Their job is to get here and do the work that's before all of us," Bosma said. "Not dictate the agenda, not dictate the schedule, not make demands as though this is some sort of labor negotiation ... and then go on strike when they don't get their way."