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Indy chaos continues

Legislators stay deadlocked on proposed bills

March 02, 2011
During the last week or so, politics in Indianapolis have captured the attention of people all over the country as bills favored by House Republicans have been disrupted, put on hold or dropped due to the absence of most House Democrats.

The showdown began back in November, when the Republicans became the majority in both the House and Senate and started setting the stage for the push to get their agenda through. But last Monday, the overpowered Democrats made a stand that left Republicans fuming. After working on several bills that day, Democrats went to caucus and just didn't come back.

Two Democrats remained for parliamentary reasons, while Steve Stemler, of Jeffersonville, chose not to participate in the walkout.

The House was then adjourned for the day with the hopes of continuing the following day. But on Tuesday, it was reported that the Democrats were holed up in a hotel somewhere in Illinois where Gov. Mitch Daniels couldn't send Indiana State Police troopers to bring them back.

There were several bills in play that the Democrats viewed as "radical," including the right-to-work bill, the school voucher bill and bills the Democrats considered harmful to unions and middle-class workers. And regardless of protests from teachers, union workers and others, Republicans remain focused on their goals and seem to be reluctant to negotiate.

"Things have been a little off track up here," Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, said in an interview last week. "We don't have a quorum; we need two-thirds of the House for that. But we're ready to work and they are in Illinois. And they want to kill some of the bills we already passed — some are on the governor's desk — and they want us to pull and cancel them. Over 20 committee bills were killed because of their absence."

Davisson went on to list other bills popular with Republicans that were affected by the Democrat hold-out, including a foreclosure bill, a school health insurance bill, a cost of living adjustment for retired public employees bill and a bill that would help volunteer fire departments financially.

"We've been elected to do a job," Davisson said. "I want to work. When the going gets tough, don't walk away."

But most Democrats believe that the Republicans have gone too far and that the right-to-work bill would be extremely detrimental to Hoosier workers, especially public employees and unions.

"They have really brought out some weird bills," Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, said. "Some Republicans are out to bust the Indiana State Teachers Association. And actually, this is an attempt to bust all organized labor. They say they are worried that we can't compete in a global economy. And they want to lower wages here to compete. We know that will destroy the middle class in America. That's their solution, but, of course, that would exclude them."

The governor may be in support of the right-to-work bill, Young said, but understood the House's inability to get a quorum.

"He had other issues he wanted to address," Young added. "I don't think he wanted another Wisconsin controversy here. That take-it-or-leave-it stuff don't usually get you much. He's a master of deception, and you can bet the governor has other things on his mind."

Young said Daniels wants to re-work the public school system and to reconfigure local government, not reform it.

"Those two things are different," Young said. "But that will not save taxes or improve anything. If he does away with township government, the county councils will not be able to take over that responsibility. A few townships are not busy, but some have a lot going on. The county will then have to add more employees, like a secretary for the council, to take care (of) the additional work.

"The township advisory boards, on a statewide average, make about $530 a year. A few big townships in the state have a large staff and multi-million-dollar budgets. But in my district, as in most, they wouldn't average $530 a year. The governor wants to be able to say he reduced the size of government. There's 1,000 townships in the state, and each of them has three people on a board. That's 3,000 statewide that would lose that job. But, like I said, if you do away with those, you won't gain much if the county has to hire a full-time person to do the work when it's passed on to the county councils," he continued.

"Those people on the boards live in the communities. They are close to the people. Do we want to get rid of that? Some townships have problems, but that's what the State Board of Accounts is for. The Republicans want to wear it down to where it won't work then point out that it doesn't work."

Young said he agreed with Daniels, who said that the Democrats, by walking out, were only using a legislative tool to make the minority voice heard.

"It's a parliamentary move. But there's a lot at stake here, like doing away with county commissioners and having a single executive over the county," Young said. "Now, any major decision in a county requires the votes of two of the three commissioners. The whole county is looked after that way. I remember one time, I think it was down near Alton, the Democrats refused to fix a road down there because it was a Republican area and they couldn't get votes there. The Republicans weren't interested in fixing the road because they already had the votes sewed up, so nothing was done. With a three-commissioner system, things get done."

As of press time Monday, the Democrats still had not returned to work in Indianapolis. A few bills, like the right-to-work bill, wasn't acted on within the time limit and failed, and the township overhaul bill was defeated in the Senate, giving Daniels a defeat on one of his priorities. The bill may be revived in the House by Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, but it would still need to be approved in the Senate, and that is unlikely.

"This session will be over in late April," Davisson said. "We may have to come back in special session to get everything done. Right now, we're going to work on Senate bills and they are going to be working on ours. Hopefully, we'll be able to get some stuff to the governor to sign."

"The right-to-work issue thing was never an issue in anyone's campaign," Young said. "The governor didn't even want it brought up. But (Speaker of the House Brian) Bosma went ahead and did it, and it blew up the session. We'll still get our work done. We may have to work late a few nights, like snow days at schools, but the same amount of work will get done."

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