Republican frustration over the five-week walkout by Indiana House Democrats reemerged Wednesday as the state Senate approved a method for $1,000-a-day fines against boycotting legislators.House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer suggests the proposed law is unconstitutional; however, Indiana had a similar law on the books for nearly a century until it was repealed in 1970. He hasn't decided yet whether the legislation would provide yet another excuse for his caucus to walk out to deny the House Republican majority a quorum to conduct business in the closing days of the session.
The action threatened the calm that has existed in the House since the Democrats returned March 28, with the Democratic leader saying he wasn't sure how his members would respond and that he believed such fines could violate the state constitution.
The Senate voted 36-0 to add the provision to the state budget bill after Democratic senators left the floor in protest. The measure would allow a resident of a boycotting legislator's district to ask a judge to fine lawmakers who were unexcused for three or more days in order to leave too few members present to conduct business.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long said the provision was needed to prevent such boycotts from becoming a regular tactic by legislators.
"It has set a terrible example, in my opinion, to the rest of the nation," Long said. "It cannot be allowed to occur."
House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said soon after the Senate vote that he would have to meet with his members before deciding what action they would take and that he didn't know whether another walkout was possible with just more than a week remaining before the Legislature's April 29 adjournment deadline.House Speaker Brian Bosma first raised the issue of reviving the anti-bolt law as one possible way of avoiding a long shutdown of a legislative body as occurred this year but has not decided whether his caucus will support its passage. "It might scratch a few scabs open and that's maybe not the best thing right now," Bosma said. "But we have had a lot of input from citizens over the last three months that they think some revision to the law or constitution is appropriate. If I were to pick one, I would say this is the most advisable one." Personally, I would prefer the legislature pass a constitutional amendment that would reduce the quorum requirement from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority and letting the voters decide the issue as a long-term solution.
Bauer said Republicans were "out of whack."
"They've gone to such a radical extreme that some of these punitive measures that they try to dream up are more important to them than people having jobs, people putting food on the table," Bauer said. "I think the constitution would override their pouting and shouting."