Dems leave Indiana House, stalling GOP labor bills

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Associated Press

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 22 at 8:31 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana House Democrats took a page from the playbook of their counterparts in Wisconsin on Tuesday, refusing to show up and stalling action on a Republican-backed labor bill.

Most stayed away from the Statehouse completely, and a couple skipped town to neighboring Illinois. Only three of 40 House Democrats were in the chamber when Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried repeatedly to convene it, leaving the chamber short of the two-thirds needed for a quorum.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary told The Associated Press that he and Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis were traveling Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 74 in Illinois, but wouldn't say where they were headed.

"He's driving. I don't know how long we'll be driving west like this," Brown said.

While the desks of 37 Democratic legislators were empty, several hundred union members crowded the adjourning hallways and held up signs to windows looking into the House with slogans such as "Stop the War on Workers."

It was the second day of large union crowds at the Statehouse, with the spark being a GOP-led committee on Monday taking up so-called right-to-work legislation that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment at most private-sector companies.

Wisconsin's Senate hasn't been able to take up a bolder measure that would strip nearly all public employees' bargaining rights since that chamber's Democrats left the state Thursday.

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had urged GOP legislators not to act on the right-to-work bill this year, told reporters that the absence of Democrats on Tuesday was a legitimate move and that he would not use state troopers to compel their attendance. Daniels had said he was worried that acting on the contentious right-to-work issue could derail other parts of his legislative agenda.

"I trust people's consciences will bring them back to work," Daniels said. "I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty, the jobs that they're paid to do."

If House Democrats skipped the entire day's floor session that would cause the right-to-work legislation to miss a Tuesday procedural deadline for further consideration. However, Republicans could find other ways to consider it later.

Republicans released a list of 22 bills they said would fail at the same deadline, although none are on major topics.

Minority walkouts in the Indiana House have happened periodically in the past, including in 2001 by Republicans and 2005 by Democrats.

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