Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels rolled back new Statehouse security rules aimed at limiting the number of protesters in the building as a contentious legislative session got underway Wednesday.
“Indiana fervently respects the rights of minorities,” Daniels said, referring to union members who he said make up less than 10 percent of working Hoosiers.
Labor leaders had called on their members to turn out in force Wednesday to oppose right-to-work legislation they consider an attack on unions. The bill is scheduled for its first committee hearing Friday and has been fast-tracked by Republican Statehouse leaders.
Daniels made the announcement as hundreds of union members and sympathizers stood in the cold outside the Statehouse, waiting to get through the sole entrance they were allowed to use under the security rules.
Among them were Elizabeth Glasser and her boyfriend, Shawn Hurt, who’d traveled 3 1⁄2 hours from Fort Branch, to get into Statehouse.
They’d brought bundles of clothing, fearing they might not get into the building under the rules that capped the number of people allowed to enter.
Carrying a sign that read, “Jesus was a carpenter,” Glasser said she made the trip to support Hurt, who is a member of the carpenters union. “We’re cold and tired but we’re glad we got in,” Hurt said.
Daniels’ decision lifts the cap of 3,000 people that were to allowed in the Statehouse under the new rules. That number included at least 1,500 state employees, lobbyists, and legislators who have access to the building. Labor leaders feared their members would be turned away while lobbyists were allowed into the building.
Jeff Smith and Mike Hardy, members of a Laborers International Union local in Terre Haute, stood in line for an hour waiting to get into the Statehouse. As they entered, Indiana State Police troopers stationed at the door clicked off numbers on handheld counters.
“We’re just hoping there enough people here to get their attention,” said Hardy of the legislators inside the building.
That’s the same reason why Rudy Valadez traveled from Kokomo with about 200 fellow Teamsters. He said he hoped the show of force would change the minds of Republican lawmakers who support the right-to-work bill. “It's been a tough fight,” he said.
Also in line outside the Statehouse: former House member Dave Crooks, a Democrat from Washington, Ind., who’s running for the 8th Congressional district seat.
Crooks called the new security rules an “embarrassment‚” and said the numbers cap had the potential to backfire on Daniels and GOP leaders who are pushing to fast-track the right-to-work bill.
“I think if they had kept it up, it would have brought even more people to the Statehouse.”
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indiana