Democrats who walked out of the Indiana House of Representatives in 2011 and 2012 were fined for being absent. The state Supreme Court must now decide if the collection of those fines was constitutional.
30 Democrats filed suit, not because they dispute the fines, but because they believe it was wrong for state officials to deduct the fines from their pay. The fines were ordered by House Speaker Brian Bosma when Democrats fled to an Illinois hotel to prevent action on the right to work bill in 2011. House rules permit the fines that grew to $1,000 a day when a second walkout took place in 2012.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in an appeal to a lower court ruling won by Democrats. Retired legislator Bill Crawford is the lead plaintiff. He paid about $3,000 in fines. “It’s wages that they took from me,” said Crawford, “and it impacted my pension.”
“Our clients are entitled to it,” his attorney Mark GiaQuinta told justices, “whether they’re lying on a beach in Barbados or cutting their grass at home in the weekends or in the legislature.”
Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, arguing for the state, said that the legislature should be left alone to work out its political differences, and that’s just what the Chief Justice suggested at the end of the hearing. “If it would be at all possible for the political parties in Indiana to set a national example of cooperation,” said Brent Dixon, “this might be an ideal opportunity.”
No one disputes the power of the House Speaker to impose fines but some justices worried out loud that there are no limits on that power.
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