Indiana Dems: GOP Boycott Fines 'Poisoned Relationships'

Democrats Protest Proposal Permitting Civil Suits Against Lawmakers

Democrats returned to the Indiana Senate on Thursday after walking out Wednesday night in protest of a measure they claim poisoned relationships in the chamber.

Majority Republicans and the Democrats are at odds over a GOP-backed proposal that would allow civil lawsuits against lawmakers who boycott sessions to prevent legislative action.

Democratic senators left the floor in protest of the measure, which Republicans devised after a five-week walkout by House Democrats earlier in the session brought action in that chamber to a standstill.

The Senate voted 36-0 to add the provision, which would allow a court to fine members who tallied three or more unexcused absences up to $1,000 a day.

Vi Simpson, Senate minority leader, blasted the measure, saying it fosters personal distaste between Democrats and Republicans.

"I think the traditions of the Senate have been ruined, yes, poisoned the relationships one-to-one in this chamber but also between Republicans and Democrats, between the majority and the minority," Simpson said. "It's going to be a long time to repair it."

Republican Sen. Michael Young of Indianapolis said legislators are obligated to show up and that penalties should be stiff if they don't.

Democratic Sen. John Broden, of South Bend, said the measure would damage the state constitutional rights of minority party legislators. There is such a small contingent of Democrats in the chamber that Republicans can conduct business without them if they leave.

Republicans imposed fines that topped $3,000 for most of the absent Democrats, who boycotted in protest of GOP-backed education- and labor-related bills.

It's not clear what Democrats in the House will do if the bill returns to them for approval of changes made in the Senate. Simpson said she hasn't discussed the issue with House Speaker Pat Bauer, but she said that if she were him, she'd walkout again.

Bauer said he's not sure what his caucus will do, adding that he believes the Republican plan is unconstitutional.

"There's worse things in that budget than that," he said. "So I'm not going to be distracted at this point from trying to stop the job bleeding and the race toward minimum wage."

Next week, a House-Senate conference committee will try to work out final language on the budget bill. It's possible members will toss out the anti-bolting provision.