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Ind. speaker ready to change committee in order to advance gay marriage ban

Ind. speaker ready to change committee in order to advance gay marriage ban
Michael Conroy, APBrian Bosma
Michael Conroy, AP
Brian Bosma

INDIANAPOLIS — House Speaker Brian Bosma has spent months working behind the scenes to approve an amendment banning gay marriage while publicly keeping the measure at arm’s length, promising that it would run its normal democratic course in the Statehouse.

Until last week.

Bosma’s public revelation that he was ready to change the makeup of the House Judiciary Committee in order to advance the measure showed just how much pressure is being applied outside the public eye to ensure the proposed ban advances.

Bosma has spent hours inside private meetings of the Republican caucus pushing the amendment. Routine meetings of House committees have been thrown off track as rank-and-file Republicans have tried to figure out when the marriage debate would hit the full House.

The first hint that things might not go according to plan came last Monday, after the House Judiciary Committee heard close to four hours of testimony. Committee Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, ended the committee without holding a planned vote, amid speculation that a handful of wavering Republicans could spike the measure.

The prospect that the amendment might be defeated inside a single House committee finally drew Bosma out into the spotlight.

“I’ve said one person shouldn’t make the decision; we’ve got to figure out if a couple people ought to make the decision for all Hoosiers,” Bosma told The Times in Munster last week. “The speaker, of course, has the power to move bills and has complete autonomy over committee membership.”

Legislative leaders of any chamber in any state have many tricks at their disposal when they want to advance priorities. Procedure and rules allow them to do all but stop time and space. In some cases on the final day of session, presiding officers have been known to physically stop clocks on chamber walls to pass final measures, even as actual time ticked on.

Indiana speakers of both parties have been known to use some creative tactics to win important votes. Then-Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, drew howls of protest from Republicans in February 2004 when he recorded a vote by then-Rep. Tom Kromkowski, D-South Bend, in favor of full-day kindergarten. Kromkowski was miles away from the Statehouse, recuperating from heart bypass surgery.

Facing pressure from universities, businesses and other opponents, Bosma has repeatedly said he doesn’t think that “one person, one university president, or one person in the board room of a corporation” should decide whether to amend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution.

But his statement that he was willing to substitute members of the judiciary committee was stunning proof of how much power Indiana’s speaker would consider exercising.

His more assertive public stance is hardly news to the members of the House Republican Caucus, which has been consumed by the issue since the start of the session.

Meetings of the caucus — routine and private affairs where most of the toughest decisions are made before lawmakers return to public view — have become incredibly tense, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meetings who spoke on condition of anonymity because of their private nature.

Last week’s public statements began to match the actions of a man who has shown an intense interest in the amendment. Before he ever floated the idea of switching out uncooperative committee members, Bosma announced the creation of a companion measure designed to assuage concerns over the expansiveness of the ban.

The odd tactic — adding a statutory measure designed to explain what lawmakers mean inside — had legal scholars pondering just how a state law would trump a judge’s potential interpretation and application of constitutional language.

And while Republican lawmakers were locked inside a Statehouse room debating the amendment, Bosma and his political team circulated a Republican poll showing public support for the amendment. (Perhaps more importantly, the poll showed few electoral repercussions for lawmakers if they appeared on the ballot with the amendment in November.)

Finally came the proclamation that Bosma would look at removing committee members.

House lawmakers are expected to resume their private deliberations when they return Tuesday, with the possibility of a vote later in the week.

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