INDIANAPOLIS – A legislative stalemate over right-to-work legislation hit a second day Thursday when House Democrats refused to come to the floor and provide a quorum to conduct business.
The caucus continues to say statewide hearings are needed on the union measure and that Republicans are pushing it through too fast.
“The Speaker is really bent on getting this thing out as quickly as possible,” House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said.
He also quoted a nonpartisan Ball State University poll showing almost half of Hoosiers don’t understand or have an opinion on the issue.
Bauer said Democrats will have their own hearings in Fort Wayne and Evansville, though details were not available.
GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma said he would like to take a full House vote on the bill Wednesday after a joint House-Senate committee hearing today. Because of Democrats’ absence, no action can be taken on the bill in today’s scheduled hearing.
He acknowledged this wasn’t the usual route of legislation but noted the Democrats’ history of delay tactics.
“We need to be a little creative with this,” he said.
Under Bosma’s plan, the bill would be out of the House in under a week. And Bauer said that could be his caucus’ last involvement because the Senate is expected to pass it without alteration, which would send the bill to the governor.
Bauer said he and House Democrats meet every day to decide if they will come to the floor, and he could not say Thursday when or if they would return.
Bosma downplayed talk of fining members again, saying no decisions have been made.
Fines can be handed down in two ways. The first are levied by Bosma through House rules. That was the route used last year during the Democrats’ five-week walkout. Those fines accumulated to roughly $3,100 per member.
A new anti-bolting law that carries $1,000-a-day fines is triggered when a legislator misses three consecutive session days for the purpose of breaking a quorum.
The third day is today, though there is some legal argument over that interpretation. This avenue requires court action by Bosma.
Bauer acknowledged that the fear of fines is an issue in his caucus. Five Democratic members came to the floor Thursday – not enough for a quorum but an indication that some might be wavering.
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience (last year),” he said. “We endured it because it was necessary.”
House members from both sides of the aisle came together Thursday to push a statewide smoking ban that they feel hits “the sweet spot” in terms of exemptions.
“It’s the purest form of the bill we can pass,” said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero.
House Bill 1149 would ban smoking in almost all public places, including bars and taverns. The only exemptions are for the gaming floor at state-authorized casinos; existing cigar and hookah bars; and fraternal, social or veterans clubs if members approve smoking every two years.
The bill specifically does not exempt other parts of casinos sought by that industry, such as attached hotels, restaurants and bars. Turner said that is a competitive disadvantage for local businesses.
“Maybe the sixth year is the charm,” Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said of his repeated efforts to pass a statewide smoking ban. “It appears now that there is a rude awakening.”
The bill has passed the House in various forms five times but always stalls in the GOP-controlled Senate. Turner said he thinks it could be successful this year because Gov. Mitch Daniels put it on his legislative agenda and public support is growing.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Monday.
An Indiana Senate committee on Thursday unanimously endorsed a proposal to toughen penalties for sex trafficking, which legislators hope to pass into law before football fans converge on Indianapolis for next month’s Super Bowl.
The Senate’s criminal code committee voted 9-0 in support of the bill that supporters say would make it easier to prosecute sex trafficking cases involving victims younger than 16 and broaden the law for cases involving older people.
Mary Hutchison, a Marion County deputy prosecutor who oversees sex crime investigations, said authorities often see an increase in prostitution surrounding many major events – not just the Super Bowl. She said the bill’s provisions would make it easier to prosecute cases involving children by removing a requirement to prove force or fraud was involved.
The bill goes to the full Senate for consideration. It makes recruiting, transporting or harboring anyone younger than 16 for prostitution or other sexual conduct a felony punishable by 20 to 30 years. It also bars defendants from arguing a child consented to the sexual activity.
The bill also would make it illegal for anyone to sell or transfer custody of a child for sexual activity. Current law only mentions a child’s parent, guardian or custodian.
Abby Kuzma, a state deputy attorney general who is co-chairwoman of a statewide anti-human trafficking task force, said there have been 50 law enforcement investigations of possible sex trafficking in Indiana since 2006, although only one case has been prosecuted under state law.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.