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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Ind. Gov't. - Resources for this afternoon's meeting of the House ethics committee
The Statutory Committee on Ethics meets today 2 PM in Room 404 of the Statehouse to consider the case of Rep. Eric Turner. There is no agenda posted. The left column of the page linked lists the committee members. Notice that, unlike other legislative committees, the membership is 3 republicans and 3 democrats. That is because the membership is set by statute, IC 2-2.1-3. Notice also that like other session and interim committee meetings, the meeting this afternoon will be video streamed.
Over the past few days there have been several good stories on Rep. Turner and the upcoming meeting, including:
- "Turner’s ethics, Statehouse trust on trial" in an April 19th column by Dave Bangert of the Lafayette Journal Courier. Some quotes:
New documents uncovered and reported in recent weeks by The Indianapolis Star and The Associated Press paint a more involved picture for Turner, who apparently had millions of dollars personally riding on nursing home deals.
But the General Assembly’s practices will be on trial during Wednesday’s hearing, too. By giving cover of unspeakable privacy to the times when party members meet behind closed doors — a sort of Statehouse version of Vegas, where what happens in caucus, stays in caucus — the legislature leaves itself open to accusations of back-scratching deals.
That, of course, is nothing new. The fact that a handful of legislators ratted him out on the nursing home deal hints at just how far Turner was willing to go to twist arms to save his investments. (Your citizen legislature, ladies and gentlemen.)
Party leaders might exonerate Turner, saying that the traditional shroud of caucus is worth saving. But they have only themselves to blame for enabling Turner and anyone else wheeling and dealing out of the public eye.
The caucus — used to deliberate matters huge and minor — is a privilege reserved for the General Assembly and isn’t extended to city councils or county commissioners or school boards. That’s for good reason. Open meeting laws are meant to defend against the sort of self-serving antics Turner is accused of, by making the conversation as much of the legislative process as the votes are.
- "Turner ethics case tests boundaries of Indiana's 'citizen legislature,'" an April 20th story by Tom LoBianco of the AP. Some quotes:
Turner has said in press statements that he has done nothing wrong and acknowledged a stake in the nursing home business. Turner also recused himself from votes on the issue in public but spoke out against it in private meetings of the House Republican caucus.
Unlike a full-time legislature, such as the U.S. Congress, or the legislature of a larger state like New York, part-time, citizen legislatures are comprised of lawmakers who typically maintain careers outside politics. The two separate jobs — representing the public and working in private — can clash.
But supporters of the part-time model also point out that legislatures filled with farmers, bankers, teachers and numerous other professions, provide a diversity of viewpoints unobtainable in full-time legislatures, which are typically filled with lawyers.
When asked last week if he had any concerns about Turner's efforts inside the private caucus meetings, House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, referenced advice a former Democratic lawmaker once offered on the House floor.
"I remember a wise veteran legislator, Dale Grubb, one time got to the front of the microphone and said that if we were going to be restrictive of how people looked at this issue, we were going to devalue ourselves to become a full-time legislature," Brown said. "So I think I follow the Dale Grubb advice that we need to have citizens of all walks and all aspects."
The House ethics code itself provides somewhat conflicting guidance in Turner's case. On one hand, it bars lawmakers from using their elected office for the direct benefit of themselves or their families. But it also tasks lawmakers with providing their "expertise" in an area during a debate.
Ed Feigenbaum, a veteran observer of Indiana politics, dissected the ethics troubles that are unique to part-time legislatures in a 2006 article for the Indiana Law Review. Lacking some clear-cut ethics laws, it's even more important for lawmakers to be vigilant about ethical conduct and the limits they do place on themselves, he wrote.
But he said that has not often been the case inside the Statehouse.
"Lawmakers are often reluctant to be too comprehensive or demanding when the laws they draft apply to them, and Indiana's ethics rules for legislators are briefer and less proscriptive than the code of ethics that Indiana's lobbyists have drafted for themselves," Feigenbaum wrote.
Lacking black-and-white guidelines on Turner's actions, the members of the House Ethics Committee will have to examine shades of gray in deciding which conflicts of interest are acceptable and which ones go too far for a citizen legislature.
- Doug Masson on April 18th in Masson's Blog:
The question of when expertise becomes conflict has to do with how directly your interests are being affected by the issue at hand. In Turner’s case, the answer appears to be very directly. And that’s something the General Assembly needs to take very seriously if they wanted to avoid being tainted by association.
- "5 key questions about Rep. Turner's ethics hearing," an Indianapolis Star story by Tony Cook from April 22nd. Some quotes:
A House ethics panel will have to consider some big questions when it takes up the case of a powerful Indiana lawmaker's backroom efforts to kill a measure that would hurt his family's business.
Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner helped stop a temporary ban on new nursing home construction during this year's legislative session, even while he and his family own a nursing home development company and had millions of dollars at stake in the debate.
His effort during closed-door Republican caucus meetings stoked concerns about conflicts of interest and prompted House Speaker Brian Bosma to ask for an ethics investigation. Here are five questions the ethics committee's work will raise as it takes up the issue Wednesday at 2 p.m.
1. Did Turner violate ethics rules? * * *
2. Did Turner fail to disclose his financial ties? * * *
3. Are House ethics rules strong enough? * * *
4. Should caucus secrecy be protected? * * *
5. How will voters react?
Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 23, 2014 07:19 AM
Posted to Indiana Government