Indiana panel recommends right-to-work legislation

A committee of Indiana lawmakers voted along party lines Wednesday to put legislation that would prohibit workers from being required to pay union representation fees on the plate for the General Assembly's 2012 session.

The Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Employment voted 5-4 to advance the "right-to-work" proposal. Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly have said they are ready to file proposals.

The divisive issue that's expected to dominate much of the 2012 General Assembly's debate sparked a five-week walkout by House Democrats during this year's session. But new fines put in place by the Republican-led Legislature make another walkout much less likely.

Indiana's unions spent much of the summer protesting the "right-to-work" measure at the study committee's hearings and packed its final hearing Wednesday.

"I feel certain the testimony we heard indicated that 'right to work' is a good tool for economic development and something we should consider," said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the study committee and author of the report approved Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, issued a cryptic response shortly after the vote: "If they choose to continue these radical attacks on working Hoosier families, Indiana House Democrats will reserve the right to respond appropriately."

Bauer spokesman John Schorg did not say what Bauer meant when he said "respond appropriately" or whether that meant Democrats would walk out again next year. A request seeking comment from Bauer was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Indiana State AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said Wednesday's vote was expected but added that there is no guarantee the measure makes it into law next year.

"I'm not sure I accept the premise that the end of the story is written in terms of what they're going to do," she said of Republicans' plans.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has not said whether he would support the "right to work" in the upcoming session although he has spoken favorably of it before. He writes in his recently released book "Keeping the Republic" that he did not want to push the issue this year not because he opposed it but because it would have sparked a political wildfire and derailed his 2011 legislative agenda.

When Republican lawmakers did push the measure, it sparked the House Democratic walkout to Illinois, although Daniels' agenda ultimately survived the battle.

"We have lived through another case in which demands for unachievable perfection — the right-to-work bill had zero chance of passage through both our Houses in 2011 — risked wrecking real and enormous potential progress," Daniels wrote in a sharply-worded passage aimed at his fellow Republicans.

Daniels has not said yet whether it is a fight worth picking next year. Spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the governor is reviewing the report and conferring with more people before making a decision.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said Wednesday he plans to file legislation in the Senate with Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury. Although Daniels has not actively campaigned for "right to work" Walker called him a "silent supporter." He pointed to testimony from Daniels' then-Economic Development Secretary Mitch Roob in favor of "right to work" earlier in the summer.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, has said he plans to file "right-to-work" legislation in the House.

The last bout of debate from the committee forced a strange alignment of Democrats using Daniels' positive assessments of the state economy to make their point that "right to work" is not needed. Republican members meanwhile said the state's high jobless rate proved an urgent need for "right to work."

"Indiana, by our own governor's admission, is doing a great job," said Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte. Although the arguments made little difference in the final outcome.

Democrats on the panel tried to rewrite the report through a handful of maneuvers during the hearing but were unsuccessful. Following the vote, Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said Democrats would issue their own report separately.

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.