Indiana Democrats Losing Fight Against Union Limits Last session, Democrats fled to Illinois to prevent a vote on right-to-work legislation. This session, they prevented a quorum. But with $1,000-per-day fines for absences and a House committee approving the measure, the bill is likely to go through.
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Indiana Democrats Losing Fight Against Union Limits

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Indiana Democrats Losing Fight Against Union Limits

Indiana Democrats Losing Fight Against Union Limits

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In Indiana, Republican legislators and Governor Mitch Daniels continued their push today to make their state the 23rd Right to Work state in the country. Democrats there are working to delay the process as long as possible.

But as Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith reports, they have few options left.

BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: 2012 isn't the first time Republicans have tried to pass Right to Work in Indiana. Last year, pushing the bill sent House Democrats fleeing to Illinois for five weeks, halting business in the legislature and forcing Republicans to take it off the table. This time around, Democrats have stayed in Indianapolis, but off the House floor. They denied a quorum the first three days of session last week.

Minority leader, Pat Bauer, says the goal of his caucus is to buy more time for the public to study the bill.

PAT BAUER: This is such an important bill, such a controversial bill, the whole state ought to hear from it. We don't need to ram it through.

SMITH: Republicans say they've done anything but. Over the summer, a legislative study committee took 20 hours of testimony on Right to Work. And a joint House and Senate committee spent more than five hours on the bill last week. Speaking at that committee meeting, Democratic Senator Jim Arnold all but conceded defeat.

STATE SENATOR JIM ARNOLD: I truly don't believe also that any minds or any votes are going to be changed by what was said here today.

SMITH: The two sides seem entrenched. Right to Work legislation would ban union contracts that require non-union employees to pay fees for representation. Supporters say it will bring more jobs to Indiana. Opponents say it's nothing more than a union-busting bill that will create lower wages, health benefits and worsen safety conditions. And with Democrats doing their best to stall it again, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says this new session smacks of the movie "Groundhog Day."

BRIAN BOSMA: We will do our very best to encourage them to do what is right, which is to show up at work and do what they were elected to do, even if you disagree with what you think the result might be. Democracy is about participating, not going on strike.

SMITH: But Republicans have some added leverage this time. An anti-bolting statute was passed last session and daily $1,000 fines could be assessed on members absent three or more days straight without excuse. Bauer acknowledges the difficulty the threat of fines puts on his caucus.

BAUER: And we know we can't stay out indefinitely, but we did need to slow the process down, which we've succeeded in doing.

SMITH: Over the weekend, Democrats held public meetings around the state. And Monday, House Democrats returned to the floor, allowing the chamber to finally conduct business. But the legislative cease-fire didn't last long. Tuesday morning, Right to Work passed a House committee along party lines. The committee chairman didn't allow more public testimony or amendments to be heard, and House Democrats left the floor again. Whether they come in for session each day is in a constant state of flux.

Brian Vargus teaches political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He says the idea that Bauer keeps stressing is that more time will allow the public to be educated and make their voices heard. But he's not seeing any signs of that.

BRIAN VARGUS: The hearings they had around the state did not generate that much coverage and I don't know that they were attended by anybody but union members who were already involved.

SMITH: Vargus says hoping public opinion will sway enough Republicans to defeat the measure is the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. And even though Pat Bauer represents South Bend, home to the Fighting Irish, this legislative game appears to be in the final quarter and it looks like there's little to stop Right to Work from becoming law in the coming weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Brandon Smith, from Indianapolis.

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