INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Anti-smoking advocates are on the verge of success in the Indiana General Assembly but must wait out House Democrats' boycott of a divisive labor bill.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the Senate and House is pushing to ban smoking in most public places and workplaces, including bars. The only exemptions it includes are the gambling floors of casinos and pari-mutuel betting parlors, private clubs and cigar and hookah bars.
The bipartisan group enjoyed an added push before the 2012 session when Gov. Mitch Daniels added it to his legislative agenda and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said it should be written into law before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
But House Democrats will have to return to work before that and many other popular measures can make it into law. Democrats continued their boycott Friday over a contentious labor bill being pushed by Republicans.
The Democrats' Statehouse walkout is hardly as dramatic as their five-week walkout last year when they successfully blocked the measure to ban unions from mandating that workers pay fees for representation. But the standoff between Republicans and Democrats in the House has still placed other popular issues in limbo.
Speaking at an anti-smoking press conference one day after the start of the 2012 session, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said he thought the smoking limits eventually would lead to fewer cases of lung cancer and heart disease. "If we can impact one person's life, then we've made a difference in this state," said Brown, a physician. "We can save the state money through raising our health awareness and our health status."
Meanwhile Democrats participating in the boycott of the right-to-work measure said they were optimistic the House would return to work next week. And timing is important during the legislature's brief, 10-week long session this year.
"This impasse will probably be over next week," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, a veteran advocate of the smoking ban.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, appeared to flag Friday afternoon, saying "we know we can't stay out indefinitely." But he also gave no guarantees his caucus would end their boycott next week.
The tenuous nature of the House's legislative work occasionally showed itself during the three-day boycott through the start of the session.
Rep. Bruce Borders, who chairs the Veterans Affairs and Public Policy Committee, held a hearing on a measure that would extend military relief from one year to three years. By most accounts the measure would win almost unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
But without a formal bill in front of them the lawmakers were unable to advance the measure to the next step in the legislative approval process. Thursday's committee vote amounted to "a straw vote," said Borders, R-Jasonville, although he added that taking another vote on the measure in his committee would not be terribly hard.
Rep. Charles Moseley, D-Portage, clarified during the hearing that they could not technically vote on the bill because it had not yet been formally introduced in the House. Speaking after the meeting, he said that benefits for military families would fly with ease through the House and Senate.
"But I also have an obligation to the people of my district to represent where they stand," Moseley said after the brief hearing Thursday morning. Moseley spent all three days with the majority of other Democrats in their boycott of the House.
The boycott also threw some question around the delivery of Gov. Mitch Daniels' State of the State speech, scheduled for Tuesday night. As of Thursday, House Republican Caucus lawyers were still researching whether a quorum needed to be achieved in order for him to give his annual assessment to a joint session of the House and Senate, said Bosma spokeswoman Tory Flynn.
"Gov. Daniels will be at the House Chamber to deliver his speech Tuesday at 7 p.m.," said Jane Jankowski, Daniels' spokeswoman.
Bauer did not say exactly whether House Democrats would be in the chamber for the speech or whether they would watch it somewhere else. "We'll be there, somehow, some way," he said, somewhat mysteriously.
Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this story.