By Bill Ruthhart
House Republicans staged a Statehouse walkout Thursday night to protest an effort by Democrats to prevent changes to an illegal-immigration bill.
The GOP boycott began shortly after 8 p.m. when Republicans refused to return to the House chamber after meeting behind closed doors on the issue for more than two hours.
The feuding centered on Senate Bill 335, which would punish employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The House Public Policy Committee approved the bill Monday after amending the legislation, authored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.
Some Republicans said Thursday they wanted to further amend and strengthen the bill by including provisions that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state financial assistance for employment, college tuition and housing.
They did not, however, get that opportunity when House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, decided not to call the bill's committee reports by Thursday's deadline, thus killing SB 335. Instead, Democrats started to amend the language of Delph's legislation into a separate piece of legislation, SB 345.
Republicans stalled that effort when they walked out. They argued that they hadn't been given a fair chance to prepare for the switch and propose changes to the second bill.
House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, strongly objected to Bauer's decision, saying he broke the chamber's rules by not allowing GOP amendments. He accused Bauer of trying to kill the legislation, adding that his interpretation of the rules was "absolutely absurd."
"This is a cheap shot," Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said of Bauer's decision. "There's times I'm ashamed to be a part of this body, and this is one of them."
Bosma said Republicans walked out so the matter could be delayed until Monday, when he said House rules would allow the GOP to offer amendments.
Bauer, however, placed the House in recess instead of adjourning after the Republicans refused to return to the chamber. Doing so, he said, would not allow Republicans to offer changes Monday.
Bauer accused Republicans of trying to push racist provisions. "We don't need a hate debate on this floor," he said.
Bauer said he acted within the rules of the House and said Republicans weren't trying to improve the immigration proposal, but instead "blow up" the bill.
"We didn't car-bomb anything," Bosma replied, noting that the proposal is still alive.
Republicans also denied their amendments were racist.
Delph said he was disappointed that politics in the House stalled his proposal and urged Republicans in that chamber not to expand the discussion on his bill from punishing employers to withholding benefits from illegal immigrants.
"They were trying to get other issues injected into this debate, and I didn't think that was appropriate," Delph said.
House boycotts are unusual, but not unprecedented. The last happened in 2005, when Democrats killed 130 bills in protest over proposals that required voters to show ID at the polls and created an inspector general for the governor.