Indiana House Democrats who fled the state five weeks ago to protest a Republican agenda they considered an assault on labor unions and public education returned to the Statehouse on Monday to resume work.
Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said he and his fellow Democrats ended one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history after winning concessions from Republicans over recent weeks on several issues.
“We’re coming back after softening the radical agenda,” said Bauer, D-South Bend, whose return was greeted by cheering union workers. “We won a battle, but we recognize the war goes on.”
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled in the chamber early Monday evening, giving the House its first quorum since Democrats fled to Illinois on Feb. 22.
“It’s refreshing and pleasant to see a full chamber,” he said.
But what Democrats actually achieved with the walkout is a matter of debate. The concessions are likely more than Democrats would have gained had they not boycotted – but won’t stop the GOP agenda.
Republicans had vowed throughout the standoff that they wouldn’t remove items from their agenda, and by and large they won’t have to. The only bill actually killed by the boycott was a “right-to-work” proposal that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment.
GOP legislators agreed to some changes on several other bills. For example, they agreed to cap for two years the number of students who could participate in a voucher program using taxpayer money to attend private schools – but it would still be among the nation’s most expansive use of vouchers when the limits expire. Republicans also agreed last week to reduce the number of government projects that would be exempt from the state’s prevailing construction wage law, but the amended bill is still expected to pass.
The Democrats’ most significant achievement may be that people across the state are talking about these issues. Bauer said the public needed a “timeout” to learn about the agenda pushed by Republicans who took sweeping control of the House in 2010 elections.