Indiana speaker threatens fines for boycotting Dems

January 17, 2012

Indiana's Republican House speaker threatened to start imposing $1,000 fines against Democratic legislators who resumed their boycott of a right-to-work bill Tuesday.

Speaker Brian Bosma said he would start the next House session at 9 a.m. Wednesday and any Democrat who did not show up would be fined.

Bosma's threat came minutes after Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer announced Democrats would resume their on-again, off-again boycott because of what he called Bosma's "manipulation" of an effort to put right-to-work legislation on the ballot.

The two leaders fought over who broke a truce negotiated to keep Democrats in the House chamber long enough for a vote on a Republican plan to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees. The legislation has brought hundreds of labor protesters to the Statehouse almost daily and spurred Democrats to frequently block action by denying Republicans the number of lawmakers needed to conduct business.

Lawmakers had planned Tuesday to vote on whether to put the right-to-work bill to referendum before voters this fall. But Bauer said he found out late Monday that state lawyers had raised questions about the constitutionality of such a measure. He called it a trick Bosma was using to give Republicans cover to vote against the referendum proposal.

"The same continuing pattern is they do not want the public to legitimately and constitutionally have the referendum," Bauer said. "That's part of their pattern. Keep the public out and go after the representatives who demand that the public be let in."

Bosma said he wouldn't tolerate further stalling by Democrats.

"I think he sees ghosts behind every door," Bosma said about Bauer and his allegations.

Lawyers for the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, the state agency that drafts bills for lawmakers and provides legal advice, wrote in a Jan. 13 memo that the Indiana constitution "does not include a referendum option" and said it is "unlikely" voters could have the final say on statewide legislation.

Legislators in recent years have permitted local referendums on whether to allow casinos, approval of school construction projects, additional property taxes for school and elimination of township assessors. State records show the only statewide referendum questions in several decades have been on whether to approve amendments to the state constitution — not approving state laws.

"There are referendums on everything under the sun," Bauer said. "We didn't need to be blindsided by that person (Bosma) up there."

Democrats will need "several days" in order for lawyers to prepare a new amendment seeking the referendum, he said, adding that he does not expect them to return to the House on Wednesday.


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