This week was an eventful, yet unproductive, week at the Statehouse. The House Democrats fled the Statehouse shortly after session started on Monday and have not returned since. Their absence means that we do not have the required 67 members present to have a quorum to do business on the House floor. After giving our Democrat colleagues many opportunities to come back and do business on Tuesday, they finally issued a list of demands that must be performed before they will return.
Their first concern was over the "right to work" bill that was approved in committee on Monday and was to be heard in the House chambers starting on Tuesday. They demanded that the bill be dropped immediately without any further discussion. Tuesday night was the deadline to approve committee reports that included the right to work bill on the House floor. Since we did not have a quorum to approve the committee reports, the right to work bill and 22 other bills died Tuesday night.
One of the 23 bills that died on Tuesday night could have given a 13th paycheck to retired public employees and teachers in the state to make up for changes in the cost of living throughout the year.
Ironically, another bill that the democrats had on their list of demands was the state budget. During their so-called caucus at the hotel in Urbana, Illinois, they have so far proposed over 140 amendments to the budget, House Bill 1001. All of these amendments are spending increases to the tune of over $450 million. If we were to approve all of these amendments to the budget and increase spending by that much, it would mean automatic tax increases for all Hoosiers and bankrupt the state. The current proposed budget has the state staying out of debt. In fact, the proposed budget without these amendments would have the state structurally balanced fiscally, meaning that we will no longer be spending more than the state takes in and we will live within our means
In total, there were 11 bills listed in the Democrats' demands that they wanted dropped immediately. Two of them died Tuesday at midnight; two of them were never even heard in committees and had no chance of making it through the House to begin with. Two of them have already passed through the House, and Governor Daniels has said that the other five will be heard no matter how long it takes. In fact, one of two bills that have already passed the House was signed on Thursday by the Governor and is now law.
Thursday night was the original deadline to amend bills on second reading on the House floor. Second reading is simply the time that the entire House is able to propose amendments to a bill and vote on those amendments. There are 25 bills that are on the second reading list including the state budget, and they all would have died on Thursday night. Rather than let them die, the rules were amended by the rules committee to extend the deadline to next week. Had the deadline not been extended and those bills died, this would have been the first time since 1887 that the House was unable to perform their constitutional requirement of passing a state budget. We could not let that happen.
This is a very unfortunate delay. The House Democrats have essentially brought the state to a crashing halt by shutting down the legislature and issued a list of demands that must be met. Both Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Governor Daniels have said that we will not negotiate on these issues in this way. This is not how our legislature and the democratic system work. We were elected to represent our constituents by proposing ideas, discussing those ideas, compromising where we can, and eventually voting on the issues. We do not flee the state and order that bills be dropped without any further discussion. What started out as a power play by the democrats to make a stance on a single bill has now turned into a media stunt to gain national media attention and attempt to force us to drop our agenda that we were elected to carry out. We will not make concessions on the Strengthen Indiana Plan.
I am pleased that we were able to extend our deadlines so that the bills remaining on our calendar will be heard, discussed and voted on. I am also pleased at the governor's comments that we will be here as long as needed to do the work that we are constitutionally obligated to do. It is now up to my Democrat colleagues to come back to Indiana and do the business they were elected to do in a civil manner.
As always, I will keep you updated on the progression of events here at the Statehouse. Please continue to send me your comments as we press on.
Rep. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper)