Indiana Democrats missing as state assembly reconvenes

INDIANAPOLIS Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:40pm EST

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INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Most Indiana Democratic state representatives were staying in Illinois on Monday, prolonging into a second week a stand-off to delay a vote on bills they say would harm workers' rights.

The Indiana Democrats, staying in Urbana, Illinois, say there has to be an agreement by Republicans to take those bills off the table before they will discuss other legislation.

The Indiana assembly reconvened Monday afternoon, but missing most of its 40 Democrats, thus depriving Republicans, who have 60 votes, the two-thirds quorum needed to pass bills. Neither side Monday reported progress in negotiations.

"It's a waiting game right now," said Tory Flynn, a spokeswoman for Republican house speaker Brian Bosma. Republicans want to extend a deadline for the bills until Friday, to keep the bills alive, but without the Democrats, they can't vote on the extension.

Bosma has said he would not cut a "backroom deal" with Democrats but would instead handle the issues openly on the house floor, Flynn said.

"He believes taxpayers are being held hostage at this point," Bosma said. "He said he's not going to reward this type of behavior."

The house will reconvene Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. EST.

Actor Danny Glover spoke on behalf of unions to protesters at the statehouse Monday morning, while Bosma had a closed-to-media "town hall" meeting inside, speaking with about 100 people, mostly workers, Flynn said.

The bills before the house include one that would create a voucher system to allow Indiana parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. Another bill would put into state law a ban on collective bargaining for state employees, a policy already imposed by Governor Mitch Daniels.

The actions by Indiana legislators mimic what has happened in Wisconsin, where all 14 senate Democrats have left the state to avoid voting on a proposed collective bargaining bill. The Wisconsin Democrats also remained out of state Monday.

At Monday's statehouse protest, Carina Atherton-Childress of Lafayette said unions have always been the ones "to push for decency" for workers.

"With so much unemployment, this is not the time to take away worker protections," said Atherton-Childress, whose husband Norm Childress is a retired union carpenter.

(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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