Most of the nation’s attention is rightly focused on the recent events and ongoing crisis in Wisconsin and Michigan, where extremist Republican regimes are waging a brutal war on labor unions, collective bargaining, education (by way of attacks on the teachers) and on the middle class, though the larger picture is Democratic political foundations in those states and President Obama himself.
Hoosiers, however, despite having a more moderate – or at least what passes for a moderate these days – Republican governor, have similar woes of its own, with a job-killing anti-union right-to-work bill and a school voucher bill hanging over their heads.
Three weeks ago, finding themselves outnumbered 60-40 in the House (and 37-13 in the Senate), Indiana House Democrats fled Indianapolis for Urbana, Illinois, leaving a Republican majority (they have majorities in both House and Senate) short of a quorum and unable to force through offensive legislation. The Republicans in the Senate possess a quorum-proof majority and were not affected by the flight of the Democrats.
For the House, whenever it can get back to doing business, Indiana lacks a budget; the current budget runs out on June 30.
And then there is a questionable immigration bill, one modeled on that of Arizona, which was approved by the Senate.
So far 23 bills are on hold. They’re not dead, despite what people may think since they can be inserted into other bills until adjournment even if they haven’t cleared procedural hurdles. One of the objectionable bills, HB 1479, would allow the state to take over schools that are struggling and turn them over to school operators. We will probably see that one return, as unwanted as a visit from the undead.
There is also a Tea Party bill, one of the ubiquitous “constitutional convention” bills floating around most Republican-controlled state houses, which would limit the authority of the federal government.
The GOP has made a big fuss about the Democratic-caused delays but none of this has really cost the state anything. The House Democrats are refusing to accept their $152 daily expense pay while they’re in self-imposed exile and the GOP’s House Speaker, Brian Bosma, has been assessing a $250 per day fine (much less than some of the hard core freshmen Republicans wanted – $1000. The only way the state will have to pay extra for all this is if a special session is called. But the legislature has until April 29 – seven weeks.
The hotel expenses, food and technology for the Democrats holding out in Urbana are meanwhile being picked up by the Democratic Party and amounts so far to $60,000. Increased donations have covered that cost. The liberals of Indiana understand what is at stake.
Meanwhile, the Democrats wile away the hours in Urbana. There has been some discussion of what would happen if they came home. Would Governor Mitch Daniels pull a Scott Walker and send the police after them? Some Republicans have called for just such an action. Can’t do, says an Purdue University professor who specializes in the Indiana constitution.
William P. McLauchlan says, “It’s all hyperbole, this threat of police action.” He explains that “It’s all symbolic. Sounds great, but we can’t send the police after them” because Daniels has questionable authority to do so. In fact, Daniels had already said he would not involve the police because it would mean diverting them from their real job, which is to protect the people of the state.
Professor McLaughlan is right and Mitch Daniels knows this. His general counsel, David Pippen, researched the question and discovered that Indiana’s Constitution prevents the executive branch from performing any function of another branch unless it is granted specific constitutional authority which doesn’t exist. As Pippen says, “We can’t arrest them. They haven’t broken a law, and it’s not our job.” Daniels said back in February that he wasn’t “going to send the State Police after anybody. . . . I trust that people’s consciences will bring them back to work.”
Granted, the House could ask the governor to send the police to bring the missing Democrats home but another provision in the Constitution says that legislatures are immune from arrest while the legislature is in session except in cases of felony, treason, or breach of peace. And the Constitution does not allow any work-around for the quorum problem.
The Democrats realize that even if Governor Daniels does not have the authority to send the police after him there is no guarantee he will not do so. Win Moses, who represents Fort Wayne, says he is not about to put his head “in the jaws of the lions.” And that, he says, is not going to happen, because if they return, the Democrats will lose the legislative battle.
So the stalemate continues.