INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana General Assembly began the process Monday of moving on with the legislative session, despite the continued absence of Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The Senate Appropriations Committee listened to testimony on the proposed budget that’s snagged in the House stalemate, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, assigned bills that have passed the Senate to House committees.

The House still needs at least seven Democrats to be in the chamber for a quorum to conduct business, but lawmakers said Monday that they can get at least some work done while hoping that Democrats end their boycott.

“We’re turning our attention to legislation now,” Bosma said. “We can’t really cater to the desires of a few folks too much longer. We spent four weeks doing that without success, so were prepared to move and get on with legislative business.”

House Democrats began their walkout Feb. 21 in opposition to GOP-sponsored education and labor bills. They left the state the next day for Urbana, Ill., where the Indiana Democratic Party has been paying for them to stay in a hotel.

The two sides seemed close to achieving a compromise last week, but Bosma announced Thursday that time for negotiations had expired.

Rep. Scott Pelath, a Michigan City Democrat who was in the House for procedural reasons Monday, said his fellow party members want to resume those negotiations.

“It’s too bad we find ourselves still at this spot,” Pelath said, “but I think that if we can just get back to calm, rational negotiations, we can have progress here. We can get back to the normal course of business, and in particular the Republican majority can get back to doing most of what they want to do if they’ll just stop trying to do the very-most-extreme things they want to do.”

April 29 is the statutory deadline to end the legislative session this year. If House Democrats don’t return in time for lawmakers to finish their work, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels would have to call them back to the Statehouse for a special session.

Writing a new two-year state budget is the most urgent item on the General Assembly’s agenda. If lawmakers don’t approve a spending plan by June 30 -- the end of the fiscal year -- parts of state government could shut down.

Therefore, both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee said Monday that beginning budget hearings is the right action in these circumstances, even though senators are looking at a House proposal that hasn’t passed out of its own chamber.

“We’ll work as a group here and get everything where it needs to be. Then were not going to feel like were four weeks behind,” said Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.
“I think it works out better doing this than waiting another few weeks and then trying to come up with something at the last minute.”

Sen. John Broden, a South Bend Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the committee, agreed.

“I think everyone’s goal is to be done by April 29,” Broden said. “I certainly don’t see the harm in allowing the public to weigh in on at least the framework of the initial House budget.”

Staff writer Kevin Allen:

kallen@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6244