INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana House Democrats appear to be dropping last year's walkout strategy in favor of a start-and-stop tactic they hope will at least slow right-to-work legislation that Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to push for in his last "State of the State" speech Tuesday evening.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma tried twice Tuesday afternoon to gavel the chamber into order, but the vast majority of House Democrats instead cloistered themselves in a meeting room in the Statehouse basement. That again denied Bosma the numbers needed to push the bill that would make Indiana the first state in a more than a decade to ban contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation.
"We have to work with the cards that we're dealt here, and right now that's thirty-five or -six of the Democrats holed up in the basement," Bosma said.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer protested the House labor committee's 8-5 party-line approval of the bill earlier in the day, saying Republicans wrongly prevented Democratic members from offering any amendments during the meeting.
"I don't know what will slow them down or stop them other than what we're doing, I don't know that this will give them pause or not," Bauer said. Democrats left the state for five weeks last year to block the right-to-work proposal and other measures pushed by Republicans, but heavy new fines enacted after their walkout have made it harder for them to make such a dramatic move again.
Bosma said the committee acted properly and Democrats will be able to offer amendments later.
Supporters of the right-to-work measure say it would bring more jobs to Indiana, where unemployment has crept up to around 9 percent. Opponents say it is aimed at breaking unions and claim it would depress wages for all workers. House Democrats had stalled the bill again but ended a three-day boycott of the House on Monday.
The labor committee's Republican Chairman Douglas Gutwein and Democratic Rep. David Niezgodski periodically shouted each other down Tuesday as Democrats attempted to introduce a handful changes to the bill.
Gutwein said a batch of Democratic amendments were drafted too late to be considered during the voting session.
"What are you afraid of?" asked Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka. "You have plenty of votes to pass this bill."
Gutwein countered Democrats, saying that opponents had plenty of time to speak out last week during a five-hour hearing on the measure.
"They're ruled out of order and that's it," he said of the amendments.
Union protesters gathered outside the Democratic caucus Tuesday afternoon and cheered them on while Republicans met in the House chamber two floors up in the Statehouse.
Bosma said the Democratic action wouldn't interfere with Tuesday evening's State of the State speech by Daniels in the House chamber, which Bauer said he will attend. The Republican governor, who is term-limited from running for re-election in November, included the labor proposal in his 2012 legislative agenda and has filmed television ads in support of the measure.
The measure is expected to find an easy path through the state Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13.
Tom LoBianco can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/tomlobianco.