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June 18, 2013

Court lets walkout fines against House Democrats stand

Justices said they didn’t want to get involved in legislative matters

INDIANAPOLIS — House Democrats who had to pay more than $100,000 in fines after they walked out of the Indiana Statehouse won’t get the help they sought from the Indiana Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the court ruled that would be inappropriate for the judicial branch to invade the authority of the legislature over the fines dispute.

The ruling upholds an earlier trial court decision that said legislative leaders have “exclusive constitutional authority” to compel attendance and levy a fine against those who don’t comply.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote the majority opinion: “For courts to get involved in such a legislative function would amount to the type of ‘constitutionally impermissible judicial interference with the internal operations of the legislative branch” which we have rejected in the past.”

In January, after hearing arguments in the case brought by House Democrats, the court had urged House leaders to resolve the matter internally. But no compromise was ever struck.

The dispute centers on fines levied by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma against House Democrats in 2011 and 2012 who refused to come to the House floor. In doing so, they left the legislative body without a quorum and unable to do business.

House Democrats later filed suit against state Auditor Tim Berry, who collected the fines by withholding money from legislators’ paychecks.

The 2011 walkout by Democrats successfully stalled a “right-to-work” bill that bars employers from requiring workers to enter into union contracts. The legislation was revived in 2012 and passed, despite protests from Democrats and labor supporters.

In the 2012 election, Republicans swept up both the House and Senate races, sending super-majorities to both chambers and giving the GOP enough votes to create a quorum on their own.

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