« Ind. Law - Watch out for new improved variations on "foreign clients with cashiers' checks" scam | Main | Ind. Gov't. - "Sunday alcohol sales campaign manager charged with drunken driving" »

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - More on: General Assembly will hold voluntary ethics training session today

Updating this ILB post from Jan. 14th, the ILB doesn't know whether Rep. Behning attended the training, but as Tom LoBianco reported in a long, front-page story in this morning's Indianapolis Star:

A veteran lawmaker who oversees education in the Indiana House of Representatives has formed a lobbying company to represent education clients, raising potential ethical questions at a time when state lawmakers are considering sweeping new ethics rules.

House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, formed Berkshire Education Strategies last June, and has continued leading the House education committee since then. Behning said Wednesday that he is looking to represent student testing company Questar in Oklahoma and would like to sign up more clients. But he added that he was doing everything possible to ensure he only represents clients out of state, and not in Indiana. * * *

Behning said he is looking to sign up more clients, but said he did not see a problem because the work would not directly coincide with his role running the Indiana House Education Committee. He said that he had a draft contract for Questar prepared by an ethics lawyer at Barnes and Thornburg and that he submitted it to members of the House Ethics Committee for consideration.

Behning said Questar flew him to its Minneapolis headquarters for two days of discussions three months ago, but he emphasized that he has not signed any contract with Questar yet and is awaiting word from the ethics panel.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he "discouraged" Behning from trying to sign up any education clients, but also said he could not tell lawmakers what to do in their private lives.

"We don't dictate to people what they do in their private business lives," Bosma said. "We can encourage or discourage it. I'd say we discouraged this one. But citizen legislators are free to engage in the business activities they choose to engage in."

Bosma noted that new rules require lawmakers to recuse themselves from any action when they have a personal or business interest at stake. He said that if one of Behning's clients from out of state were to appear before his committee in Indiana, it would be hard for Behning, as chair of the committee, to completely separate himself from the situation.

The story notes:
Behning's decision to start a lobbying firm comes at a sensitive time for House lawmakers, who are considering ethics reform in the wake of a trio of Statehouse scandals involving former House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, former Indiana Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has made ethics reform a centerpiece of the House Republican agenda this session. He also called in the director of the National Conference of State Legislature's ethics program to run a one-hour training program with lawmakers last week.

In a story this afternoon, LoBianco writes:
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said new ethics rules and a reform measure are aimed at the exact questions raised by Behning's actions.

"This is precisely the type of thing that we're trying to bring to light, both for the public and to the members of the ethics committee. I didn't know we were going to have a dry run on it so quickly," Bosma said Thursday.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 22, 2015 04:05 PM
Posted to Indiana Government