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Indiana legislator sues over walk-out pay deductions

June 20, 2011

An Indianapolis lawmaker is suing the state for deducting some of his pay to cover fines imposed against him because of a legislative walkout earlier this year.

Fort Wayne attorney Mark GiaQuinta filed a suit June 16 in Marion Superior Court on behalf of Rep. William Crawford, D-Indianapolis, who took part in the five-week walkout that shut down the House in February and March because of a right-to-work bill.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, used a House rule to assess fines against the 39 lawmakers who had left the state during the walk-out, deducting the fines from their legislative pay.

In Crawford’s case, the fines total more than $3,000 and also affect his retirement pay. The suit challenges how the fines were imposed but not the fines themselves.

Specifically, the suit says Indiana Code 22-2-8-1 prohibits employers from taking fines out of paychecks and it’s considered a Class C infraction to do so. In addition to that, the suit says it’s official misconduct for an elected office-holder to violate the law and that amounts to a Class D felony.

State Auditor Tim Berry, the State of Indiana, and Bosma are named as defendants in the suit, which is the only legal challenge to the fines to date. Crawford also filed a civil tort claim in the Indiana Attorney General’s Office last week, making similar allegations.

Spokesman Bryan Corbin in the AG’s office declined to comment on the suit or tort claim, but referred to previous statements Attorney General Greg Zoeller had made in April when saying that no formal advisory opinion would be issued on the matter.

“Assessing fines against House members is an issue exclusively for the legislative branch of state government to decide,” he said. “Under the constitutional separation of powers, neither the judicial branch nor the executive branch has the authority to prevent the House from imposing sanctions. Since the Indiana House is on strong legal ground in imposing fines and in doing so through payroll deduction, the Office of the Attorney General as state government's lawyer will defend the authority of the legislative branch to determine its own rules for House members.”
 

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