INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana House Republicans on Wednesday approved $1,000-a-day fines against boycotting Democratic legislators who gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda with labor union supporters rather than show up to debate a divisive right-to-work bill.
Democrats were planning a court challenge to the new fines, with their House leader saying he didn't believe the House leadership had the legal authority to deduct the fines from paychecks of members.
The Republicans voted to approve the fines as part of a resolution that accused the boycotting Democrats of "dereliction of their duty." The only shouts of "no" in the voice vote came from among the five Democratic representatives not taking part in the boycott.
Most of the 40 Democrats resumed their walkout Tuesday after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on proposed amendments to the bill banning union contracts with mandatory representation fees from nonmembers. At that point, Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said fines should begin if not enough Democrats showed up for the amendment debate on Wednesday.
Bosma rejected the Democrats' request for more time for lawyers to draft a revised referendum amendment.
"We've given them an extensive amount of time, they asked for it and we gave it to them," he said Wednesday. "Now there is another item they need more time on. It's just a delay tactic."
The Democrats began their Rotunda meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.
"We are simply asking Brian Bosma to hold House Bill 1001 (right-to-work) so we can get an amendment presented on the floor so the people of the state of Indiana have a voice," Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said to cheers from union protesters.
Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer and one of his lieutenants, Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said Republicans broke a truce the two sides had negotiated last week to allow a vote on the referendum proposal Tuesday.
A legal challenge of the fines by Democrats would be similar to one pending in court regarding smaller fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott over a version of the right-to-work proposal and other Republican-backed labor bills.
Bauer said the court challenge could be filed as soon as later Wednesday.
Bosma said he intended to begin withholding the fines immediately from the paychecks of those boycotting and that he believes the deductions are legal.
Bosma said the fines are being imposed under House rules and not the anti-boycott law that Republican legislators pushed through last year.
Bosma turned down an offer from Bauer that Democrats would return to the House on bills other than the right-to-work proposal. Several of the boycotting Democrats took part in committee meetings held around the Statehouse after the failed attempt at a floor session.
Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, spoke in front of the House before the fine vote, asking for the Democratic representatives to return.
"This is the best system where we debate ideas," Brown said. "Let us have our time. Let us do it the right way."