In Indiana, AWOL House Democrats Dig In

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February 23, 2011 6:01 a.m.
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The controversial “right to work” bill the Indiana House Democratic caucus wanted killed when it fled the state on Tuesday is dead. But the self-imposed Democratic exile lives on.

After Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) urged the Republican majority in the House to drop the bill that led Democrats to pack up and leave the state, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) obliged, saying Tuesday night that the bill — which died thanks to the lack of a quorum prompted by the Democratic absence — would not be placed back on the legislative agenda.

But that hasn’t brought the Democrats back to Indiana. Thanks to the rules of the Indiana Legislature, Democrats say they can kill a slew of other bills they don’t like just by staying away. And it sounds like they intend to do just that.

Indiana’s legislative rules give a fixed timeline for bills to be read on the floor and voted on. The current session comes to an end on April 29, when the legislators will go home unless Daniels calls a special session of the state legislature.

Sixty-seven of the Indiana House’s 100 members must be in the legislature for votes to proceed. The Republicans have a huge 60-40 majority, but that’s not enough to force a quorum without the Democrats. So, AWOL House Democrats could effectively kill legislation just by hanging out in Urbana, IL, where they’re currently holed up. (Here’s a good explainer on the nuts and bolts of the Democratic walkout from the Indianapolis Star).

On Tuesday night, the House Democrats’ leader released a statement laying out the bills his caucus wants gone, and promising to stay put until the legislation is pulled from the calendar.

“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 statement reads. “Our leader, State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend), is ready to talk to the Speaker any time. All the Speaker has to do is call.”

On the list of bills the Democrats are refusing to allow a vote on: state-funded private school vouchers (a personal favorite of Gov. Daniels), a bill allowing the state to hand over failing schools to private companies, and the state budget bill.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are unmoved by the Democrats’ gambit. And, for now, they’re refusing to give in.

“We will not concede to a list of demands,” Bosma said in a statement released to reporters at 11:30 Tuesday night. “Instead, we expect Democrats to return to do the work they were elected to do. If they are unwilling to do so they should step down and be replaced with individuals willing to participate in the democratic process.”

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