INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A divisive labor bill is back in Republican hands after Indiana House Democrats on Monday ended a three-day boycott of the chamber to stall the measure.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the right-to-work bill will get a committee vote Tuesday morning and could make it out of his chamber by the end of the week if Democrats continue to attend House sessions.
Indiana House Democrats returned to the Legislature after spending three days blocking the contentious bill but did not promise to stay long enough to allow a final vote on the measure. House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer told The Associated Press that Democrats were returning "just for today."
The Democrats' return put the issue of Republican vote-wrangling back on the table, at least for a day. Bosma needs 51 votes to pass the measure. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats 60-40 in the House, some Republicans such as Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso have said they plan to vote against the measure.
Bosma said he is confident he will be able to lock in the votes needed to pass the measure. "We'll just keep calm and carry on," he said, echoing the British World War II motto he has adopted for the right-to-work battle.
Republicans want to make Indiana the first state in more than a decade to enact right-to-work legislation, which bans employment contracts that require employees to pay mandatory union fees for representation. Supporters claim it would bring more jobs to Indiana, where the unemployment rate has crept back up to around 9 percent in the recent months. Opponents say it is a move aimed at breaking unions in Indiana and claim it would depress wages for all workers.
House Democrats stalled work at the opening of Indiana's 2012 legislative session last week by denying Republicans the 67 members on the floor they need to conduct any business.
The measure is expected to find an easy path through the state Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13.
National right-to-work advocates came close in November to making New Hampshire the first right-to-work state since Oklahoma passed the measure in 2001 but could not find the votes to override a veto from Democratic Gov. John Lynch. The issue had been largely dormant since the late 1940s and '50s but has enjoyed a resurgence following the GOP's sweep in statehouses across the nation in 2010.
Indiana Republicans approved new $1,000-per-day fines for prolonged absences after a five-week walkout by Democrats last year over the same issue.
Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said that if House Democrats stay in session the right-to-work measure could make it to the governor's desk as soon as two weeks from now.
But if they use a start-and-stop approach to stall the measure further, Republicans will be ready with the same fines they levied last year, he said.
"So if their idea is, come in one day be gone two days, come in a day be gone two, that's not going to fly for very long at all," he said.
The measure could reach Gov. Mitch Daniels' desk before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Daniels has made the labor bill one of his top priorities for the 2012 session and appeared in television ads pushing the measure. Last week, the NFL Players Association called the bill "a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers' rights."
Daniels has kept his involvement to mainly wholesale lobbying pitches, talking with newspaper editorial boards and filming television ads for the measure, but said he will personally pitch House lawmakers if needed.
"I'm willing to in case there are some who are on the fence," Daniels said.
Some Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Bruce Borders of Jasonville, say they are looking at exempting Indiana's construction workers from the ban but have not said definitively whether they will support the bill.
"I'm still keeping my powder dry," Borders said last week.
Bosma did not discount the idea of carving the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades from the measure, noting that he pushed for that exemption last year.
"I'm a little leery about that approach, but I know there are some people interested in that," Bosma said, adding that he would oppose efforts to put the measure on the ballot for voters in 2013.
Tom LoBianco can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/tomlobianco