INDIANAPOLIS —  Indiana House Democrats who staged a walkout this week have pledged not to collect their $155 daily expense allowances, but they’ll have to write checks reimbursing the state to keep that promise.

Because lawmakers automatically receive their per diem with their weekly paychecks while in session, the House Democrats who fled the state to stall legislation will be paid their regular expense allowances next Wednesday.

According to House Clerk Caroline Spotts, who oversees administrative matters, including payroll, for House members, the Democrats who want to pay back the money will have to write out a check to the “State of Indiana.”

Just how much they’d have to pay back to follow through on a commitment made by House Democrat minority leader Patrick Bauer earlier this week is unclear, though.

House members receive a $155-a-day allowance, seven days a week while in session to cover their expenses. That’s in addition to their base salaries of $22,600.

On Tuesday, all but three of the 40 House Democrats left the Statehouse and most fled the state for a Comfort Suites hotel in Urbana, Ill. In doing so, they left the 100-member House without the quorum needed to do business. Bauer has said they won’t return until Republican House leaders meet their demands to stop 11 bills, including the proposed biennial budget bill.

House Democratic leaders said they left the state, fearful that Gov. Mitch Daniels or Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma would order the state police to force them to return.

Bauer told reporters that the House Democrats who staged the walkout would not collect their per diem while gone. He also said their hotel costs were being covered by the Indiana Democratic Party. He declined to say when they’ll be coming back.

Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who returned to the Statehouse on Thursday, said he’s decided that he’ll give his per diem to a Michigan City public school. “The school corporations have been hammered in terms of funding,” Pelath said. Funding for Indiana’s K-12 public schools was cut 3 percent last year.

Complicating the matter even further is a rule that says if the House is out of session for five consecutive days legislators will have to begin submitting daily vouchers, with their signatures, claiming their per diem, as long as they remain without a quorum.  

That means that beginning Monday, all House members will have to sign and submit a daily voucher, saying they were engaged in legislative business and want to be reimbursed $155 for that day’s expenses. Whenever enough members are present to make a quorum, which is 67, the daily allowances automatically kick back into effect.

At a news conference Thursday, Bosma said he’d have a stack of vouchers on his desk to personally hand out to legislators. It wasn’t clear whether he was joking.

At least one House Democrat who won’t have to abide by Bauer’s pledge is Rep. Steve Stemler of Jeffersonville. He was the sole Democrat who, out of principle, refused to join his colleagues in the walkout.

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, expressed some frustration when asked about the per-diem pledge made by the missing House members.

“It’s an issue, but it’s not the primary issue,” Clere said. “Their continued absence from being here to do the people’s business is the primary problem. Paying back the per diem solves nothing.”
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