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Indiana Democrats' Wisconsin-style walkout ends after flurry of compromise

Compromises on several Republican-backed initiatives led the 39 Indiana Democrats to return home Monday, and the state's House met in session for the first time in five weeks.

By Staff writer / March 28, 2011

Indiana Democrates in attendance while the House comes to order in Indianapolis, Monday. The Democrats' return to Indiana’s House ends their nearly six-week-old walkout.

AJ Mast/AP

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Chicago

Indiana’s House met in session for the first time in five weeks late Monday after compromises were reached on several Republican-backed and bitterly contested legislative initiatives, ending a walkout by 39 Democrats who had fled the state.

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The walkout in late February deprived the Republican majority of the legislative quorum necessary to pass legislation that Democrats characterized as hurtful to working families.

The move was reminiscent of the Democratic tactic in the Wisconsin battle over public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights, except that in Indiana’s case the Democrats were objecting to the entire Republican agenda.

Despite sharp words from both sides throughout the Indiana standoff, its conclusion came through a series of bipartisan compromises.

A right-to-work bill, which would have barred all employees from paying union fees, was the first of several the Democrats criticized, but it was removed from the legislative docket soon after the walkout.

Other bills were rewritten to make them easier for Democrats to digest and to lure them back to the state. They included a school voucher bill that Republicans originally designed to become the largest of its kind in the United States, but later was capped at serving 7,500 eligible students in the first year and 15,000 students in the second.

Another bill involved a Republican attempt to make public construction projects up to a certain size exempt from exclusively hiring union labor. The compromise with Democrats lowered the maximum price tag on the exempt projects from $1 million to $350,000.

Because Democrats are the minority party, they were under no illusion the bills would be killed, says John Schorg, a spokesman for the House Democrats. Instead, their walkout would simply help make “onerous bills less onerous.”

Once compromises were made to those bills and others, the Democrats had little reason left to remain self-exiled in a nearby Urbana, Ill. hotel,” Mr. Schorg says.

“In a perfect world we would have thrown [the bills] in the garbage and be done with them,” he says. “We had probably gotten to the point where we had gotten as much as we could and the time was here to come back.”

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