Indiana Dems To Return Home With Big Concessions From GOPers

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Just about a month ago, dozens of Indiana state House Democrats fled to Illinois to shut down what they said was a Republican agenda that targeted workers rights and the public schools. Now they’re set to return, having won several concessions from the GOP that will change the face of what Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) was hoping would be a signature session.

Rep. Patrick Bauer, leader of the state House Democrats, called the deal “not perfect” but said the deal shows the standoff — which shut down the state legislature in Indiana for weeks — paid off in the end.

“The principled stand by House Democrats forced concessions by the House Republicans that reflected the concerns expressed by so many people who came to the Statehouse in recent weeks,” he told TPM in a statement. “Today we can announce compromises that are great steps forward for working Hoosiers.”

Here are two big highlights from compromise, provided to TPM by a Democratic source:

• Labor: Republicans have agreed to scrap the controversial right-to-work law that led the Democrats to shut things down back on Feb. 22. Republicans have also pledged not to pass a law making the state’s existing ban on collective bargaining for state workers, created by Daniels executive order, permanent.

Daniels had suggested the legislature not take up the bill in the first place, saying he supported it but that it could “wreck” his goals of making the session about education reform and other top priorities for his administration. So the deal to take labor off the table can be seen as a victory for both the Democrats and Daniels, who’s eager to move on to other things, possibly in advance of a run for the White House.

• Education Daniels’ signature policy agenda for this legislative session was a proposal to create a state-funded private school voucher system for low- and middle-income families. That plan will be curtailed considerably in the deal with House Republicans.

The compromise calls for strict caps on the number of vouchers the state can give out the program’s first two years, denying, as a Democratic source put it, “the largest voucher program in the nation the Republicans originally wanted.” Under the new plan, vouchers will be limited to 7,500 students in the first year and 15,000 in the second year.

Other concessions in the deal call for the abandonment of plan to let private companies take over failing public schools.

Republicans in the Hoosier State say what Democrats call concessions are “accommodations,” and will be part of an open amendment process that will be voted on on the floor. House Speaker Brian Bosma’s office told TPM that Republicans are ready to get back to work, and will convene the legislature at 5 PM today. A spokesperson for Bosma said the Speaker believes Democrats are coming home because of “public pressure.”

“It’s been a long five weeks and an expensive five weeks,” Bosma spokesperson Tory Flynn told TPM. “He is glad the democrats have decided to return.”

Even with the concessions, Bauer said Democrats are probably not going to vote in favor of Daniels’ education reforms, or other parts of the legislative agenda they railed against from across the Indiana border. But Republicans don’t need their votes — they have a big enough majority to pass anything they want — but they do need the Democrats in the room to get a quorum. They’ll get that now, but Bauer says Democrats have made their point, and shifted the Republican-led agenda back in their direction.

“We’ve protected working people from a march to the minimum wage. We’ve protected collective bargaining rights for Hoosier workers and teachers. We’ve softened the blow to public schools and prevented a bill for private takeover of public schools,” he said. “This timeout gave millions of Hoosiers a real voice in their state government.”

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