Indiana lawmakers to debate ‘right to work’

Democrats dodged the issue last session, but Hoosier GOP promises the debate will return

January 4, 2012

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(AP/Michael Conroy)
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is leading the effort to pass right-to-work legislation in the upcoming session

Indiana’s legislative session will be short this year — it’s expected to last until March — but judging by the political tone set before the start of the session Wednesday, the debate will be furious.

The Republican leadership, as well as Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, have already vowed to make so-called right-to-work legislation the centerpiece of their agenda — a move that’s already stirred an uproar among Hoosier Democrats. If approved, the legislation would prohibit companies from making employees pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

The GOP attempted to push the issue through the General Assembly in 2010, but Hoosier Democratic state representatives scuttled debate by fleeing Indiana and holing up in Illinois for more than a month.

Indiana Legislative Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum does not expect such a boycott this time.

“I think there will be a number of parliamentary maneuvers that Democrats will employ that will be to their strategic advantage that will show their displeasure,” he said.

Those maneuvers could include delays in showing up for quorum calls or otherwise disrupting business without leaving the Statehouse.

Supporters of current right-to-work proposals say Indiana needs such a law to attract businesses. Democrats say the move is an attempt to hurt organized labor and that such laws in other states have driven down wages.

Pro-union supporters say they want to get a jump on the debate and are expected to flood the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon, but they may encounter resistance. State police last week announced a new 3,000-person cap on the number of people allowed inside the Statehouse at any given time.

Unions quickly shot back, calling the limit a move by Daniels’ administration to stifle debate.

Republican Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said Tuesday that the rules don’t discriminate against anyone, and that the limit is based on public safety concerns. He added that the limits will be evaluated daily.

Aside from union legislation, lawmakers are also expected to again consider a statewide smoking ban, legislation that failed to get past the committee level in 2011. Supporters want such a ban to be implemented in time for the Super Bowl, which will be hosted in Indianapolis next month.

A statewide smoking ban has been sought by Indiana state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) for years without success.

With no budget to approve, this session is considered the “short session” and must be completed by March 14.