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Monday, April 14, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Top Indiana lawmaker, family had millions on line in nursing home fight"

Updating this April 10th ILB entry, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel today contains another AP story by Tom LoBianco on the ethics questions involving Rep. Eric Turner. Rep. Turner is Speaker Pro Tempore of the Indiana House. Some quotes from today's story:

INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the House Ethics Committee who will take up Rep. Eric Turner's case face daunting tasks as they try to answer two questions:
  • Did their powerful colleague violate any ethics rules in privately lobbying against a measure that would have hurt his family's business?

  • And are their own ethics rules substantial enough?
At the center of the inquiry is the Turner family's lucrative nursing home construction business and legislation this past session that would have banned construction of new facilities. * * *

House rules bar formal and public actions that directly benefit a lawmaker. Turner recused himself from votes publicly, but Republican lawmakers say he spoke up in private meetings of the House Republican caucus in the last two days of the legislative session and was successful in killing the ban.

The ethics committee appeared ready to meet last week, but the meeting was pushed off indefinitely. When its members do return, they'll tackle some pointed questions about Turner's actions, ethicists say. * * *

Turner has yet to speak publicly about his arguments inside the Republican Caucus this year. But he was asked about the issue last year, when he worked behind the scenes to clear a path for a multimillion-dollar contract for Utah-based Insure Rite, which was being represented at the Statehouse by his daughter, Jessaca Turner Stults. Asked at the time if he was representing his personal interest or that of his constituents, he scoffed and said he always looks out for the people who elected him first. * * *

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma first promised an ethics review last spring, following news reports about lawmakers with conflicts of interest. But it was not until Turner's lobbying was reported this year -- and Democratic Party Chairman John Zody called for an investigation of his actions -- that Bosma sought the review.

The relative strength of the House's own ethics rules, and whether they contain too many loopholes, will be one of the chief issues the ethics panel takes on when it meets.

The ILB has located the brief Code of Ethics adopted by the Indiana House of Representatives. Perhaps relevant to the Turner question are paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Code, which appear to be in conflict:
No member of the House of Representatives shall sponsor or cast a vote on any legislative matter, except budget or general revenue bills, that might reasonably be expected to directly result in a substantial increase of his or her non-legislative income. * * *

Every member shall give freely of his or her particular expertise during a discussion or debate upon a given proposition; in doing so the member shall, insofar as it is possible, present the positions of all sides of the proposition.

Recall that the stories report: "Turner recused himself from votes publicly, but Republican lawmakers say he spoke up in private meetings of the House Republican caucus in the last two days of the legislative session and was successful in killing the ban." Notice that the Ethics Code does not seem to be clear even about whether a member who has recused himself from voting on a bill may speak about the bill during public floor debate, much less in private caucus.

Compare this to the judicial branch of government. As I understand it, when a justice recuses at the Supreme Court, he or she leaves the conference room when the case is internally discussed by the other justices. And the recused justice certainly does not participate in oral argument.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 14, 2014 03:42 PM
Posted to Indiana Government