INDIANAPOLIS – A strident Gov. Mitch Daniels flayed the House Democrats Wednesday as a standoff over labor and education strife dragged into a third day and threatened to derail the state budget today.
"We will not be bullied or blackmailed out of pursuing the agenda we laid in front of the people of Indiana," he said. "That agenda is going to get voted on if it takes special sessions from now until New Years."
Despite the harsh words, Democrats who fled to Illinois seemed no closer to returning to the Statehouse. The House needs 67 members to conduct business and Republicans have only 60.
Speaking via teleconference, House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said his members are doing their job representing constituents who have expressed opposition to the measures.
"We could just sit there and collect our per diem and punch in and be good little lambs led to the slaughter," he said. "But we care. This is not easy."
The verbal sparring came with a backdrop of steady chanting, singing and civil disobedience by thousands of union protesters who have become fixtures at the Statehouse this week. National media also descended on Indiana as the face-off follows a similar move by Wisconsin Senate Democrats.
If Indiana House Democrats continue the boycott, about 25 bills on the calendar could die tonight, including the state's proposed two-year budget and a school voucher bill.
"Tomorrow is when there are real consequences for the people of the state of Indiana," House Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said.
Later in the day, Bosma said there is a procedural maneuver that could be used to push back the deadlines if the House Democrats return Monday.
On Tuesday night, 23 bills died – including the controversial right-to-work legislation that started the fracas on Monday. It would prohibit employees from being required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
And Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, on Wednesday squashed the resurrection of the issue later in the session. Instead, he said the Senate and Daniels support a study committee on the complicated issue.
"There's so many other heavy, difficult, complex issues we have to deal with this year that to throw that on top of them, as volatile as we knew it would be, I think was a mistake," Long said.
He did note, however, that nothing justifies the House Democratic walkout.
"No matter our differences between Republicans and Democrats we are elected to do a job and that job is to have our fannies in our seats, working hard, dealing with the issues that are important to the people of this state," Long said.
But Democrats said it's about more than the right to work measure – focusing on a number of bills they perceive to be anti-education and anti-worker. This includes attempts to weaken teacher collective bargaining, provide state-paid vouchers for private schools, cut unemployment benefits and more.
Bauer was deliberately cagey about what exactly would bring his members back to the Statehouse.
And Daniels was adamant that he would not take a charter school expansion or voucher bill off the table.
"It is not happening. It is not happening," Daniels said, affirming he would not negotiate with anyone who walks off the job and takes their taxpayer check with them.
In fact, the governor went so far as to say that the proposed education reforms alone are enough to bring lawmakers back for a special session.
Bosma seemed to become more resolute as the day wore on, but also was losing patience with the protesters outside the chamber who chanted even during the House prayer and pledge.
He also admonished those in the public House gallery not to be vocal. When they started yelling and singing he closed the gallery for the rest of the day.
"We have a voice. We will be voting you out. This is our house," yelled one protester.
Later Bosma said there was a spitting incident with a demonstrator, but he would not elaborate.
"It's gone from an appropriate exercise of First Amendment rights to bullying and intimidation," he said. "It will not deter House Republicans."
To read Daniels' statement, verbatim, click here. Audio and video are also available.
The reaction was 'foreseeable'
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said late Wednesday morning that it was wrong for House Republicans to push controversial right-to-work legislation this year and that it is dead in the Senate chamber.
Instead, he said the Senate will propose a study committee on the complicated issue to see if proponents or opponents are right – "we'll get to the bottom of it."
The bill prohibiting employees from being required to pay union dues or fees has sparked days of protests and a House standoff at the Statehouse.
"The reaction we've seen was foreseeable," Long said. "There's so many other heavy, difficult, complex issues we have to deal with this year that to throw that on top of them as volatile as we knew it would be I think was a mistake."
He also noted, however, that nothing justifies the House Democrat walkout that threatens the state budget and other key bills.
Earlier today ...
Tempers flared earlier Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse while the bulk of the House Democratic caucus remained ensconced in Illinois in an effort to kill controversial labor and education bills.
Hundreds of union workers again flooded the state capital building – this time chanting during the House prayer and pledge of allegiance.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, admonished a group in the House gallery from being vocal inside the chamber. When they started yelling and singing, he said the gallery would be closed when the House tries to reconvene at 2 p.m.
"We have a voice. We will be voting you out. This is our House," yelled one protester.
Without the Democrats, there still is not a quorum to conduct business in the House. Yesterday, 23 bills died on the calendar. More are threatened tomorrow.
Bosma said he spoke to House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, today and refused to negotiate their return.
"We will not concede to a list of demands from those who have vacated this state," he said.
He said again that a controversial right-to-work bill died Tuesday in the House. But he said he cannot control what occurs in the GOP-led Senate on the topic, which could be revived later in the session.
Bosma also refused to abandon other education bills Democrats don't like, including a voucher bill and a charter school expansion.
What happened Tuesday
House Democrats succeeded in killing a contentious labor bill with an interstate walkout that likely will continue today and threaten more legislation.
"It's just too much," said Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, calling from an undisclosed location across the state line later revealed to be Urbana, Ill.
"The Republicans kept pushing what we considered to be a radical agenda. They couldn't resist themselves."
Gov. Mitch Daniels downplayed the events – including two days of labor demonstrations.
"Just to affirm, the activities of today are (a) perfectly legitimate part of the process. Even the smallest minority – and that's what we've heard from the last couple days – has every right to express the strength of its views, and I salute those who do," he said.
Daniels also said he would not be sending the Indiana State Police to round up missing lawmakers.
"I'm not going to divert a single trooper from their job of protecting the Indiana public," he said. "I trust that people's consciences will bring them back to work. I choose to believe our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty."
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, sent a written statement late in the evening that said the governor still has the ability to compel their attendance. That is why they went to Urbana for the immediate future.
"By staying here, we will be giving the people of Indiana a chance to find out more about this radical agenda and speak out against it," he said. "We will remain here until we get assurances from the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma that these bills will not be called down in the House at any time this session."
The trouble started Monday when House Republicans pushed right-to-work legislation through committee.
House Bill 1468 prohibits employees from being required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Democrats feel it weakens collective bargaining and will depress wages.
House Democrats late Monday went to caucus to review amendments on other bills – and never returned.
Tuesday started with a sit-in by union workers and rallies throughout the day. All but three House Democrats bolted the Statehouse – and ultimately Indiana.
Two of the Democrats stayed to ensure Republicans didn't act without enough members on the floor and a third has not been caucusing with his colleagues this year.
The House needs a quorum of 67 members to conduct business. Republicans have 60.
Because no action was taken on committee reports Tuesday, 23 bills died, including the right-to-work bill.
Moses said that bill was the last straw for a caucus already frustrated by other moves against schools.
"It's been one thing after another," said Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, who was also reached by phone. "They are turning public education inside out. Enough is enough."
Moses said it's unlikely they will return today as the caucus members fight other bills being pushed by Republicans they consider to be anti-worker and anti-education. This includes a bill to provide publicly funded vouchers for private schools.
The voucher bill is one of 22, including the state budget, up for amendment and could die Thursday without action. An additional 25 awaiting a vote by the full House also are in jeopardy if no action is taken by Friday night.
While the bills could die, the issues could be amended into other legislation during the second half of the session.
"It's an extraordinary waste of taxpayer time and money," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
In the Senate, the more reliable chamber plodded through dozens of bills. Senate Democrats pledged support of their colleagues.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said it will be a sad statement if the House Democrats don't return today.
"One thing I do not support and will never support as a legislator is walking away from your job," he said. "For anybody to walk away and try to shut down the process, … I think it is a bad statement to make."
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