INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Thursday that he will defend the state House of Representatives from any lawsuit filed over the fines it has imposed.
According to the Tribune Star in Terre Haute, House Democrats were fined after fleeing the state on Feb. 22 in hopes of stalling some "contentious" legislation.
For five weeks, they stayed at a hotel in Urbana, Ill.
It wasn't until two weeks in that Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma started to levy the fines. They started out at $250 a day, then increased to $350 in the last week in hopes of getting the Democrats to return, the Tribune Star reported.
Now, every week until the end of the year, about 20 percent of those Democrats' per-diem checks will be withheld and paid into the state treasury under a payment plan imposed by Bosma. That is, until the $120,000 in fines are paid in full, according to the newspaper.
Zoeller said in a statement that assessing fines against House members is an issue "exclusively" for the legislative branch of state government to decide.
"Under the constitutional separation of powers, neither the judicial branch nor the executive branch has the authority to prevent the House from imposing sanctions," he said.
The attorney general said his office will defend that authority, if need be.
"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," Zoeller said. "My office previously has defended the Indiana General Assembly and individual legislators from lawsuits and we will do so again if requested.
"The ability of the House to administer sanctions is indisputable and my duty to defend that government body from lawsuits is clear," he added.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at email@example.com.