About 300 union workers chanted 'thank you Democrats' as representatives trickled into the Statehouse around 5 p.m. Monday. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) led the Democrat return after spending 36 days caucusing in an Urbana hotel.
The Democrats and Republicans spent about four hours going through legislation. The House broke at 9:00 p.m.
The Democrats’ absence had prevented a quorum in the House, which prohibits work on legislation. The Democrats originally left in protest of a bill that would have made Indiana a "Right to Work" state. Their absence killed that bill. They continued to stay out-of-state in protest of other bills up for consideration this session. Many of those bills the Democrats considered "anti-worker" legislation.
Bauer said it was a victory for the people as Democrats protested right to work legislation and a school voucher expansion they said would have taken money away from Indiana public schools.
"They like their public schools, they like their collective bargaining," said Rep. Bauer. "I really do think people should be allowed to have a living wage."
"We've made great progress to protect their livelihoods," said Representative Peggy Welch (D-District 60).
Returning representatives said they were returning because they accomplished their goals.
"We're returning because some accommodations were made. More importantly the public debate that we wanted that was not allowed by the compressed schedule (Republicans) had set up. That public debate is occurring," said Representative Ed DeLaney (D-District 86).
Democrats also claimed victory on compromises in the school voucher program which will be limited to 7,500 students in the first years. Bauer also cited a change to HB 1216 which affects union jobs and wages on public construction projects. He said that was also a victory in compromise for what the Democrats wanted.
Republicans said the Democrats did not compromise as much as they say they did but that doesn't matter as much as having the Democrats back in the Statehouse.
"If it makes somebody feel good about themselves and gets them back to work, it's okay with me," said Majority Leader Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis).
The provisions of the compromise included:
- Right-to-work legislation is off the table, preserving collective bargaining rights;
- The permanent ban on public employee bargaining is off the table in the House;
- Enabling legislation for private takeover of public schools is off the table in the House;
- Private school vouchers will be limited to 7,500 students in the first year and 15,000 in the second year, rather than the largest voucher program in the nation the Republicans originally wanted;
- Rather than an outright ban of Project Labor Agreements as Republicans wanted, PLAs still can be included with projects passed by public referendum; and
- The threshold for applying the common construction wage to projects would be $250,000 for 2012 and $350,000 for 2013, rather than the job-killing $1 million threshold the Republicans wanted.
The representatives also discussed a driving while texting bill Monday night but adjourned at 9:00 p.m., leaving the discussion and amendments on the State Budget and the school voucher bill for Tuesday. That debate is expected to continue through the rest of the week.
Legislators have until April 29 to get all of their work done or face a possible special session. Both Democrats and Republicans said they are working towards compromise in order to avoid that.
The House will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday.