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Democrats block anti-union bill with no-show

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By Megan Banta

On the second day that members of organized labor showed up at the Statehouse by the hundreds to protest an anti-union measure, Democrats in the state House of Representatives refused to go in to session Tuesday in an attempt to kill the measure.

Only three Democrats stayed, thus denying a quorum and preventing the House from considering House Bill 1468, which supporters call a "right-to-work" bill and opponents call a union-busting measure. The bill would make it against Indiana law for employers in most industries to require employees to belong to a union or pay union dues, which would weaken labor organizations' bargaining power.

The bill emerged from committee Monday on the strength of a party-line vote. If the bill is not reported from committee to the full House within a day, however, it dies on procedural grounds.

A House without a quorum cannot accept a committee report, which is why the Democrats walked. In the process, they also may have killed 22 other bills.

Rumors swirled regard House Democrats' whereabouts. Reports surfaced that they had left the state, just as state Senate Democrats have done in Wisconsin.

Even the Democrats' press secretary said he didn't know for sure.

"I cannot confirm or deny any reports about where the members of the Democratic caucus are, because I don't know and I don't want to know," said John Schorg, media director for the House Democrats.

"What I can say is that the Democratic caucus will do everything it needs to do to stop the majority from cramming anything it wants down our throats, such as right to work or (school) vouchers."

House Republicans said that by walking out, Democrats were not representing their constituents, which is what they were elected to do.

Rep. Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand) said she hoped Democrats would return so the House could continue with the day's activities.

"I'm very hopeful that they will make a good decision and come back...tonight for all kinds of reasons, because we were elected to do this work," Ellspermann said. "I think that this is a bill that we as a whole assembly need to look at. It has tremendous economic benefits for Indiana."

Ellspermann also said she thinks the bill is being misrepresented.

"I hope to have the debate in the House so that people can really understand what it is," she said. "Then we, together, [can] decide if that's something we want to do for Indiana."

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said that he is not inclined to negotiate with the minority on any item in the day's business, including the right-to-work legislation.

"To negotiate, you have to be able to have discussions with people," Bosma said. "We've not seen anyone. They've been completely absent. No one's reached out."

As for getting Democrats to come back, Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), the author of HB 1468, said Republicans were not willing to "make a unilateral decision" to kill the bill to get Democrats back before the end of the day.

The Democrats' walkout prompted questions about whether the Indiana State Police would be sent to round them up and bring them back to work.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, scotched that idea during an impromptu mid-afternoon press conference.

"I'm not sending the state police after anybody," Daniels said. "I'm not going to divert a single trooper from their job of protecting the Indiana public.

"I trust that peoples' consciences will bring them back to work," he continued. "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."

The drama of the walkout capped a second consecutive day of protests by labor unions. State police estimated that a crowd of 4,000 showed up Tuesday to demonstrate against the right-to-work bill, attempts to curtail collective bargaining by teachers and other education measures.

Tammy Tucker, 46, of Laborers' Union Local 120, drove up from her home in Martinsville to stand outside the Statehouse holding a sign urging legislators to "Stop the war on workers."

"I'll stand out here in the cold for as long as I need to stop this," said Tucker, who was laid off from her job as a hotel worker more than a year ago.

"We need our jobs," she said. "We need our pay. We need our pensions.� If we lose this, we lose everything."

Inside the Statehouse, labor's leaders held a rally at a stage on the north end of the rotunda, only a few hundred feet from the governor's office. As the day went on, the crowd ebbed and swelled.

Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, said that union members were at the statehouse to protest against bills that take power from the people and give it to large corporations.

"We're here in an effort to protect the middle class, which we think...is severely under attack as part of a nationwide plot," Guyott said.

Guyott said right-to-work legislation is "intended to bankrupt unions and cause division within a workplace unit."

Former state Republican Party Chair Mike McDaniel watched the proceedings from a spot one floor above the stage.

"A lot of people are participating in the process, and I think that's great," McDaniel said. "I'm not sure right to work will do as much damage to their interests as they say it will and I don't think anyone can prove that it will, but it's always (good) to see people care this much."

McDaniel predicted that the Democrats would return to work on Wednesday because the right-to-work bill would be dead.

"But, of course, nothing's ever really dead around here until sine die and the end of the session," he said. "There are a lot of resurrections in this place."


The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.

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