INDIANAPOLIS | Ten minutes.
That's how long it took for the promise of bipartisanship to devolve into partisan fighting and personal attacks on the floor of the Indiana House on Wednesday, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.
At issue were House Bills 1028 and 1043, so-called right-to-work measures that prohibit forcing workers to join a labor union as a condition of employment, and House Bill 1067, which outlaws mandatory labor agreements for public works projects.
House Democrats, led by state Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, and state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, wanted to force an immediate vote on the measures, hoping to derail them before Republicans built a majority in support.
But the Democrats initially didn't get the chance to ask for a vote because House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, didn't read the bills by number, title and author as required by House rules. Bosma, following decades of House precedent, read the first bill and deemed the entire list of bills read without actually reading them aloud.
Austin and Bauer objected, setting off 90 minutes of partisan debate with Republicans questioning Democrats' motives and Democrats insisting that Republicans follow the rules unanimously approved in November.
"If we're going to have these rules and we're going to put them in writing, then by gosh we should follow them," Austin said.
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Bosma eventually relented and allowed a vote on House Bill 1067; the measure survived, 58-38, and will be sent to committee. But Bosma said afterward he's not likely to put up with similar "floor antics" in the future.
"We can't live with that procedure. I think it's totally inappropriate to ask legislators to make decisions when no one has read the bill," Bosma said.
State Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said Democrats don't want to obstruct the legislative process, but some legislation isn't worth considering and should be taken off the table at the start of the process.
"I want a chance to say let's not waste our time on it," Delaney said.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked state lawmakers to put off considering divisive issues, such as right-to-work, until they address the state budget, jobs, education reform and legislative redistricting.
Bosma, who appointed two Democrats, including state Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, committee chairmen in the Republican-controlled House, said Wednesday's floor fight doesn't mean he won't continue reaching across the aisle.
"We'll draw back a bloody hand every once in a while, we'll mop it off, and we'll extend it again to those who are willing to work together for the people of the state of Indiana," Bosma said.