INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Benny Harris has been boarding a rented van with some fellow road construction workers most days for the past couple weeks for an hour-plus drive to make a stand in the Indiana Statehouse against a contentious labor bill.
The 51-year-old Teamsters union member from Lafayette says he's been in the middle of the sometimes raucous crowds of thousands of protesters cheering House Democrats who've boycotted four of Legislature's eight meeting days so far.
And he and some of his fellow protesters at the Statehouse on Friday are squarely behind the new bid by Democrats to push the fate of the right-to-work bill from the Republican-dominated Legislature into the hands of voters with a statewide referendum in November.
"Just because you have all the numbers and you have the majority, that doesn't mean you can just stuff it down the people's throats and they should take it and not have anything to say about it," Harris said. "I think it should be up to everybody and see how it shakes out."
House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said his party would try when the House next meets, on Tuesday, to amend the bill so voters decide whether Indiana will become the 23rd state to ban union contracts that include mandatory representation fees.
State records show no instances in the past several decades where such a referendum has been held in Indiana on proposed laws, but Republican House Speaker Bosma said he would allow a debate and vote in this case.
Bosma called the referendum request a "very reasonable amendment to offer" but said he believed the Legislature should decide the issue — and that he expected his fellow Republicans will reject it.
"You elect representatives to come and make the hard decisions and not pass them off to the citizens," Bosma said.
Only a few dozen protesters stood in the hallways outside the House chamber Friday, and the public gallery was less than half full as Bosma made a couple trips to the minority leader's office before the House went into session to head off Bauer's threat of another boycott if the referendum proposal wasn't allowed to come up for a vote.
Facing long odds in a chamber where Republicans hold a 60-40 majority, the Democrats only tool for stopping the bill has been denying Republicans through periodic boycotts the 67 members needed to conduct any business.
Bauer told The Associated Press that he was satisfied with Bosma's assurances of a vote on whether to hold a referendum but wouldn't rule out later boycotts — a tactic most prominently used last year when most House Democrats stalled legislative business by leaving the state for five weeks.
"We will proceed — and we have proceeded — as long as they include the public in this," Bauer said. "It is part of our total concern that the public is involved in this decision."
The divisive measure is all but assured passage in the Indiana Senate where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13 and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has made its approval his top legislative priority.
Several union members interviewed Friday said they expected at least several hundred protesters at the Statehouse on Tuesday when the House takes up the right-to-work bill again.
Teamsters member Peggy Krauter of South Bend wore a "Solidarity" armband as she watched from the House balcony during her third day of protesting this week.
She expects to be back at the Statehouse next week and is holding out hope that the right-to-work bill can somehow be derailed: "God willing."