Indianapolis—Indiana House minority leader Pat Bauer (D) returned to the Indiana Statehouse around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to meet with House Speaker Brian Bosma (R).
Last week, Bauer led a walkout of House Democrats who have been holed up in an Urbana, Illinois hotel writing amendments to legislation pending before the Republican-dominated House. Bauer has indicated that comments from Speaker Bosma about possible amendments to a Democrat-opposed school voucher plan may provide an opening to negotiations to bring the minority back to the floor of the House.
Bosma has been stymied in his ability to find a quorum in the House to conduct business with the absence of most of the 40 Democratic members.
Prior to his meeting with Bosma, Bauer told reporters he wanted assurances that right to work legislation was truly dead and that he would reiterate protections for working people. True to Bosma's promise that there would be no back room deals, the two party leaders met in full view of the media Wednesday morning.
Bauer gave no indication however, whether he would bring back the rest of the Democratic party from its caucus in Illinois.
Bosma and Bauer continued to discuss their positions on the offering of amendments to GOP legislation. When Bosma asked if the Democrats would return to the Statehouse, Bauer said they would need assurances regarding jobs and education funding. Bosma said there may be more agreement here than he was previously aware of. Bauer continued to make his point that Bosma has demonized teachers through GOP bills. Bosma claims he is trying to improve standards and pay them more.
Bauer said he doesn't have a "hit list" of 11 bills to be scrapped but six or seven that are of concern and should be further studied or amended. Bauer wants lower limits on the income levels of families that would qualify for private school vouchers. Bosma explained his proposed amendments to the bill to Bauer.
"We want you back," Bosma told Bauer, saying the Republicans will treat you with respect upon your return.
"We can't continue in a state of not conducting the state's business," added Bosma.
Republican Rep. Jeff Espich (R-District 82) told Rep. Bauer he would bend over backwards to consider Democratic amendments. Bosma said the original "Right to Work" bill is dead, though there may be other similar bills that are still live. Bosma said he will not unilaterally rule any bill off the table but will ask bill sponsors if they wish to withdraw "Right to Work" legislation.
Bauer said he would take Bosma's comments back to his caucus which is currently still in Illinois and that he appreciated the courtesy and respect expressed in this first face to face meeting in more than a week.
"Being in the minority is tough, especially when you are used to getting your way but I will listen," said Bosma as Bauer continued talking in what Bosma earlier described as a monologue.
The meeting ended at 12:27 p.m. after 45 minutes. Afterward, Bosma said it was a positive development to have Bauer back in the Statehouse.
"Middle ground on issues was explored, amendments will be considered in a sincere manner. We need them to get back here and continue their job," said Bosma.
Bauer did not offer that commitment during the meeting. He also gave no indication when they would be coming back. Bauer did give Bosma a list of high profile bills regarding minimum wage and voucher bills.
Bauer told reporters there were some signs of positive motion. However, efforts to drive down the minimum wage were troubling and not all right to work issues have been shelved. Bauer said there is a possibility to reduce the number of private school vouchers and lower income levels of participating families but the issues are still troubling.
He said Democrats were a step or two closer to coming back though he would return to Illinois to brief his caucus. He said minimum wage labor bills are still a sticking point.
Bauer said his caucus is pressuring Bosma to compromise in order to encourage Democrats to return to work. Bauer said he will return to Urbana Wednesday afternoon. Bauer said to bring Democrats back now is a certain loss for us because the minority party would get steamrolled 60-40 on many amendment votes.
Before heading back to Illinois, Bauer addressed a union rally at the Statehouse.
Meanwhile, Democratic representatives from Marion County are planning to hold a town hall meeting this week via video conference from Illinois. State Representatives Jeb Barden, John Bartlett, William Crawford, John Day, Ed Delaney, Greg Porter, Cherrish Pryor, Mary Ann Sullivan and Vanessa Summers are all expected take part. The town hall meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Messiah Baptist Church on East 38th Street.
The meeting will focus on "fighting for Hoosier families" according to a news release. Democrats plan to discuss what they call the "radical, anti-family agenda" proposed by Indiana House Republicans.