The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Indiana House sat next to each other for nearly an hour Wednesday and talked without closing the gulf that has shut down legislative action in the state for more than a week.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, who is among the lawmakers who have been camped out in Illinois, drove back to Indianapolis for his first face-to-face discussion with Republican Speaker Brian Bosma since most House Democrats left the state Feb. 22. Both called the discussions positive, but they ended without any agreements and Bauer headed back out of state a couple hours later.
Asked afterward whether the meeting brought Democrats any closer to returning from their temporary headquarters in Urbana, Ill., Bauer responded, "Not a whole lot. Maybe a step or two."
Most of the Democrats aren't expected back at the Statehouse on Thursday, which would leave the House still short of the required number of members present to conduct business.
With reporters watching from the doorways of Bosma's office, the two legislative leaders and six other lawmakers _ five Republicans and three Democrats in all _ talked about the GOP-backed labor and education proposals that Democrats find objectionable.
Bauer focused his remarks on wanting to narrow the scope of a proposed private school voucher program and bills that would exempt many government construction projects from the state's prevailing wage law and prohibit local governments from setting a higher minimum wage.
Bosma at one point asked what it would take to get Democrats "back in their seats." Bauer's response included asking Republicans to "cease and desist" on what he called the denigration of public education.
The speaker said after the meeting that he had a "continued lack of clarity" on what the Democrats wanted and reiterated that no bills would be removed from the House agenda for debate and vote.
"Honestly, I don't know what else to do to encourage folks to do the job that they've sworn to do," Bosma said. "I'm counting on them to get here and do their work."
Bosma told reporters he believed the tough rhetoric of recent days had toned down. But soon after the two leaders met Bauer spoke before a few hundred union protesters chanting "Thank you, Pat!" near the House chambers, telling them the boycotting Democrats were standing up to "the tyranny of the majority."
"Everyone should speak up when they try to take away your job, take away your rights, take away your schools, take away your teachers," Bauer said. "I've never seen, in my years here, such a radical, destructive agenda."
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels met with Bosma before the meeting, but didn't speak with Bauer. Daniels said if Bauer was at the Statehouse with another list of demands, they had nothing to discuss.
"I don't have any interest in seeing him, hearing from him or talking to any of them until they're back earning their paycheck and respecting the process," Daniels said.
Whether possible changes to some of the bills that Democrats are objecting to would be enough for them to end their boycott was unclear.
Bosma said Republicans are already planning changes to the voucher bill that would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools in order to get enough support from his own caucus to pass.
Republicans will introduce an amendment limiting the number of students who can participate and adding more restrictive income level requirements. Bauer has said those changes were a good step forward.
The Republican sponsor of the bill on construction project wages said he was discussing its provisions with leaders of building trades unions. The current bill would increase the level of exempted projects from $150,000 to $1 million and remove public school districts and state universities from the law's requirements.
Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, said some contractors don't bid on some public building projects because of those requirements.
"We could save schools and universities a lot of money by opening that process up to more bidders," he said. "But it is something we are willing to talk about. It's not a game breaker."
The Democrats' boycott has already killed a "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.
Bauer on Wednesday also raised the objections of Democrats to a bill that would guarantee workers the right to secret ballots in union elections. Business groups have sought such state measures because they fear Congress could pass a new "card check" law requiring every employer to recognize a union if a majority of workers simply sign cards.
Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary, one of the participants in the leadership meeting, urged more negotiations in order to bring the Democrats back.
"The sentiments are there that until there is a meeting of the minds on those issues of collective bargaining and changing traditional education so much that there will not be a quorum here on this floor," Brown said on the House floor.
Bosma responded that if such a meeting of the minds occurs it will "be on the floor of this House ... and not behind closed doors."