Democrats skip session while leader discusses fines

The calm return of boycotting Democrats to the Indiana House was rattled a bit Thursday by a long delay in a scheduled floor session while party leaders talked in private about fines over the walkout and other complications.

Democratic legislators were at their desks on the House floor Thursday afternoon and Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said another walkout wasn't planned.

House members worked late into the night on Tuesday and Wednesday to debate and pass numerous bills that were stalled until most Democrats returned Monday after spending five weeks in Urbana, Ill., in protest of several labor- and education-related proposals, leaving the House with too few members to conduct official business.

Bauer said Democratic members were focused on legislative business.

"We want to continue this process — and we will," he told reporters.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and Bauer met for more than an hour in Bosma's office after the House session was scheduled to start and Bauer then met with Democratic legislators.

The leaders talked about the fines imposed by Republicans that topped $3,000 for most of the Democrats.

Bosma said afterward that the only way the fines could be waived or lowered would be by a vote of the full House, which would need at least 11 of the 60 Republicans to agree to a modification.

"I cannot see that happening," Bosma said.

Republicans imposed $250-a-day fines against the absent Democrats two weeks into the boycott and increased it to $350 for the final week.

Bauer said he was willing to pay the fines, but wanted to make sure they were proper.

"We understand when you take a stand for your values and take a stand for people that are being shoved down to minimum wage, there's a price to pay," he said. "If that's a part of it, so be it."

How those fines will be collected is still being worked out.

"Even the IRS offers a payment plan," Bosma said. "We'll be sure that it's paid in a reasonable fashion that allows families to function."

Democrats didn't object Thursday to a move by Republicans to extend by a week the deadline for voting on Senate-passed bills until April 21 — leaving one week for final action before the Legislature's April 29 deadline.

Bauer, however, said Democrats were concerned about the lack of public testimony being allowed on many bills in committees that were relying on testimony heard at unofficial meetings during the boycott.

"You didn't have the full committee there and many people might not have come because he announced, in fact, that it was an informal hearing," he said.

Bosma said it would be up to committee chairmen to decide whether to hear more testimony on bills, but that he expected many wouldn't do so. He said the committee meetings were available on the Internet so Democrats could have watched testimony.

"We didn't know when the Democrats were returning," Bosma said. "That could have been all the public testimony that was available until April 27 for all we knew at that point."

Bosma said he trusted that Democrats would remain for rest of the legislative session and that Thursday's delays didn't shake that belief.

"Folks need time to talk around here," he said. "It was appropriate. I wasn't upset about it at all."

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.