By Russ McQuaid
5:36 PM EST, March 7, 2011
When the gavel falls in the Indiana House of Representatives at 1:30 p.m. Monday and the Democratic side of the House remains empty, $250 per day fines will begin adding for those absent members. When the minority party headed for Urbana, Illinois, February 22nd in order to thwart republican legislation, the counter began to turn on lost work days at the house and mounting costs and penalties.
Lawmakers are paid $152 per day in per diem expenses. Since a handful of Democrats have shown up every day even though a quorum has been denied, a conservative estimate of Democratic per diem costs would be $5,624 per day. The lawmakers were automatically paid last week for seven days of the session they did not actually attend, totaling nearly $40,000 in per diem payments. The Democrats have vowed to either return that money to the state or donate it to charity. As of 10 a.m. Monday, no money had been returned. On February 27th, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) instituted a new rule requiring lawmakers to physically be present at the Statehouse to sign a voucher to receive their per diem payments so it is unlikely any more disputed per diem payments will be made.
Regarding the fines announced last week by Bosma and due to take effect Monday, that money will be withheld from future expense or salary payments. Indiana lawmakers were paid in full for their participation in the current legislative session in mid-February. Any fines would be deducted from special session salary or expense payments or the next legislative session. Those fines could collectively cost the House Democrats $10,000 per day.
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) told Fox59 News that House Democrats will remain in caucus in their home away from home, the Comfort Suites Inn at exit 183 off I-74 in Urbana all day Monday. He could not predict when the Democrats might decide to return to Indianapolis to meet their Republican opposition on the floor of the House. He said the announcement of fines, "set back a day or two," any forward momentum coming out of last week’s meeting between Bosma and Bauer. During that meeting, some major bills of contention were identified, covering school voucher and prevailing wage issues and possible areas of compromise.
"It was a whole 180 turn," said Bauer. "A complete flip flop, so, that’s hard to navigate when you take a sudden 180 turn. We just have to figure out how to not get knocked down a day after we work something positive out."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker told Fox59 News Monday that the tab for the Illinois road trip is approximately $50k and "it can't go on forever."
Parker said the party has raised money to pay the lawmakers' out of state expenses mostly through an online campaign and almost all that money has been raised in-state. Parker said recent rules to curb money raised by lobbyists does not apply to a state party. The chairman he hasn't been asked to determine if the party could pay the fines being leveled against the absentee lawmakers.