State Supreme Court upholds fines on legislators

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Pay the fines. That's the message Tuesday to Democrats who walked out of the Indiana House of Representatives in 2011.

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that said House Speaker Brian Bosma didn't have the authority to levy fines on absent Democrats. It says that Bosma's decision can't be questioned.

The fines were imposed when Democrats tried to stop right-to-work legislation by leaving the Statehouse and going to a motel in Urbana, Ill.

Retired Rep. Bill Crawford led several Democrats who argued the fines were illegal.

"It was over, on average for each member, over about $3,400," Crawford said.     

The Supreme Court heard the case in January with an attorney for the Democrats telling justices that the House Speaker overstepped his authority when he had the money deducted from paychecks. 

"Our clients are entitled to it whether they're lying on a beach in Barbados," said Mark GiaQuinta, "or cutting their grass at home on the weekends, or in the legislature."

But the Supreme Court disagreed. 

The ruling says "both the issuance and collection of fines as legislative discipline are functions constitutionally committed to the legislative branch..."

House Speaker Brian Bosma believed all along that the courts were powerless in this case.

In a statement he said, "I consider this a victory for the Indiana Constitution and the proponents of limited government, and consider the matter closed."

Asked if he regrets walking out, Crawford says, "Oh, absolutely not, I think the issues were clear."

But he also says the fines reduced both his pay and his pension.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath didn't react publicly to the Supreme Court ruling. That's his way of saying it's time to move on.

The state Democratic Party, however, is using the ruling to launch a fundraising appeal, suggesting that there is a need for more Democrats in the General Assembly.

 

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