The leader of Indiana's House Democrats hinted Wednesday that party lawmakers may walk out for the second year in a row to oppose the same Republican-led right-to-work bill thwarted last year by their five-week boycott.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said that his caucus plans to meet Wednesday to debate how to handle the GOP proposal that would make Indiana the 23rd state to bar businesses and private unions from mandating that workers pay union fees.
Bauer led the walkout last year with most Democrats abandoning their jobs to flee to Illinois. But new fines and lawmakers concerned about re-election in 2012 have made the group wary of another such ploy. A few hours before the session started, Bauer referenced the U.S. Senate's filibuster as the minority party's best tool for taking on the majority. He said a similar effort in Indiana would require the vast majority of his caucus to act in unison.
"Here, it takes a caucus of at least a substantial minority," he said.
After Democrats walked out last year, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and his Senate counterpart, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, passed new fines of $1,000 a day on each lawmaker who leaves the Statehouse for more than three days in a row.
The fines were challenged in court, but a Superior Court judge ruled the Indiana General Assembly has the constitutional authority to pass laws or its own internal rules, including how it compels attendance or imposes fines.
Rep. Scott Reske, D-Pendleton, said he feels the $1,000-a-day fine is expensive, and he hinted that some Democrats might not push for a walkout.
"You don't use the same tactic twice," he said.
But Rep. Craig Frye, D-Mishawaka, called a walkout "the only way" to block the bill.
Hundreds of union members packed the hall outside the room where Democrats met Wednesday afternoon and cheered each member as they walked into the caucus meeting.
House Democrats could also decide to continue meeting in their caucus room indefinitely, effectively denying Republicans the numbers needed to conduct business without actually leaving the state. It is unclear, though, whether that would be as effective in blocking the right-to-work bill.
Bosma said Tuesday he had not taken a tally, but is confident he can lock in the votes he needs to pass the measure.
Indiana's Senate Democrats lack the numbers needed to block the measure in their chamber — Indiana's Senate has no filibuster — where they are outnumbered by Republicans 37-13. Thus the focus has been squarely on the House Democrats.
Bosma and Long set a Friday hearing for both the Senate and House versions of the right-to-work bill. The respective measures will move through both chambers simultaneously.
"We have options so that we can react to whatever Rep. Bauer and his team have planned," Bosma said Tuesday.
A last-ditch option for House Democrats is trying to sway at least 10 Republicans to their side. Republicans hold a 60-40 majority in the House and would need at least 51 votes to pass the measure.
The Indiana AFL-CIO has been airing TV and radio ads targeting Republicans who may be vulnerable in the 2012 elections if they vote in favor of right to work.
Bosma and Gov. Mitch Daniels have been airing their own ads throughout the state in support of the measure, and the National Right to Work Committee has sent staffers to the state to build grass-roots support for the measure.