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Ind. panel takes opportunity to advance labor billLawmakers take opportunity to advance contentious labor bill likely to figure in Ind. address
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) ' A panel of Indiana lawmakers used a window of opportunity Tuesday after Democrats ended a three-day boycott to advance divisive right-to-work legislation that Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to push for in his last "State of the State" speech.
The ban on contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation moves on to the full House of Representatives by an 8-5 party-line vote. House Democrats had managed to block the vote last year through a five-week walkout during which they left the state.
Republican Chairman Douglas Gutwein and Democratic Rep. David Niezgodski periodically shouted each other down Tuesday as Democrats attempted to introduce a handful changes to the bill. Other Republicans on the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee remained largely quiet through the testy voting session.
Indiana could become the first state in more than a decade to approve right-to-work legislation. National advocates have tried without success to push the measure in New Hampshire and other states following a wave of Statehouse victories by Republicans in 2010. Supporters say the measure would bring more jobs to Indiana, where unemployment has crept up to around 9 percent. Opponents say it is aimed at breaking unions and claim it would depress wages for all workers.
Daniels included the proposal in his 2012 legislative agenda and has filmed television ads in support of the measure. The governor, who is term-limited from running for re-election in November, is scheduled to deliver his annual assessment of the state to lawmakers Tuesday evening.
The right-to-work bill is the first to be voted on by a House panel this session and could advance to the Senate as early as Friday if Democrats stick around long enough. The boycott by House Democrats last week stalled work on the measure. And Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said when his caucus returned to the House chamber Monday that they may boycott again to block the bill.
Union protesters who packed the House chamber for the vote booed at Republicans and cheered for Democrats.
Gutwein said a batch of Democratic amendments to the bill were drafted too late to be considered during the voting session.
"What are you afraid of?" asked Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka. "You have plenty of votes to pass this bill."
Gutwein countered Democrats, saying that opponents had plenty of time to speak out last week during a five-hour hearing on the measure.
"They're ruled out of order and that's it," he said of the amendments.
The measure is expected to find an easy path through the state Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13.
Tom LoBianco can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/tomlobianco.
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