CHICAGO — The political standoff over union rights and school vouchers in Indiana ended Monday as House Democrats returned to the Capitol almost five weeks after they fled the state.
Whether it was an effective protest depends on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. Democrats said they ended the walkout after Republicans agreed to make changes to several pieces of legislation. Republicans said the concessions were minor.
A major point of contention had been a bill that would prohibit any requirement that employees in private sector workplaces pay union dues or fees, but Republicans withdrew the measure last month.
Before returning to the House floor for an evening session, Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, the minority leader, said Democrats had been successful in softening the worst parts of the Republicans’ agenda. One compromise, for instance, limited the number of students involved in a private school voucher program.
“This timeout gave millions of Hoosiers a real voice in their state government,” Bauer said.
All but three Democratic members of the House left the state for Urbana, Ill., on Feb. 22 to block Republicans from having a quorum. While they were gone, Republicans issued fines against the Democrats and publicly called on them to return to work.
On Monday, Rep. Brian C. Bosma, speaker of the Indiana House, welcomed the Democrats’ return and argued that the Republicans had conceded little.
“I am pleased that a combination of patience and public pressure has caused them to return,” Bosma said.
Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, restated his plans to lower taxes and spending and to improve education.
“The only thing ‘radical’ about this session has been the decision by one caucus to walk off the job for five weeks,” Daniels said. “Now that it’s finally over, let’s make up the lost time.”
The Indiana boycott had received less national attention than a similar standoff in Wisconsin where Democrats also fled the state in February, but the Indiana delegation was away for longer. In Wisconsin, the Republicans did not wait for Democrats to return. They pushed a collective bargaining measure through the Senate by using a procedural maneuver while the Democrats were still away.
The battle over the Wisconsin bill, which limits collective bargaining rights for public workers, continued Monday. The administration of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, began to carry out the law even though some state officials said it should not yet take effect.
Earlier this month, Judge Maryann Sumi of Dane County Circuit Court in Madison barred the secretary of state from publishing the law — a procedural requirement — while she considered a lawsuit claiming that Republicans violated open meeting requirements in passing the bill. But a state agency unexpectedly published the law on Friday.
On Monday, Mike Huebsch, secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, said he had started to enact the changes in the law.