Absent Indiana House Democrats face fines from Monday

INDIANAPOLIS Fri Mar 4, 2011 2:26pm EST

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INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Indiana House of Representatives will impose a $250-a-day fine starting on Monday for Democratic members who aren't on the House floor.

Most of the Democratic members have been staying in Urbana, Illinois, since mid-February. That has prevented a quorum from being present in the House, meaning votes can't be held on legislation the Democrats say would harm workers' rights.

A quorum wasn't needed to impose the fines, however, under House rules.

Representative Kreg Battles, one of two Democrats on the House floor on Thursday when the motion passed, said the fines won't help the impasse. "It adds to the chasm. It widens the divide," he said.

The Democratic tactic and Republican response in Indiana mimic developments in Wisconsin, where Democratic state senators fled the state to stall Republican-backed legislation rolling back public employee union bargaining power.

Wisconsin Republicans have moved to levy a $100-a-day fine on absent senators.

Indiana and Wisconsin are among a number of states weighing moves reducing state worker union rights, generally tied by supporters to efforts to get budgets under control.

Critics say the proposals' impact on budgets is exaggerated and the fiscal argument is being used as an excuse for union-busting.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma has called on Democrats to return to work and hash out differences on the issues out on the House floor. He said he thought pressure was building up for Democrats to return.

"I know the heat's on those who are not here because the heat is on us," he said of his own caucus.

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

(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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