Indiana House Republicans have approved $1,000-a-day fines against Democratic legislators who are boycotting over a right-to-work bill.
The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban employment contracts with mandatory union fees.
The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma had demanded that Democrats end their boycott and give the House enough members present to begin work.
Bosma had hoped to begin voting Tuesday on proposed amendments to the right-to-work bill, but most Democrats resumed their walkout after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on the proposal.
Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said his members will stay out as long as it takes lawyers to review the proposed referendum.
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."