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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Former lawmaker lands job with vaping group that benefited from his vote"

That is the headline to this story posted last evening on the IndyStar site by Tony Cook, whose lengthy story begins:

During his final weeks as an Indiana lawmaker, Sen. Brent Steele voted in favor of a controversial vaping bill that allowed only a handful of companies to make e-liquid sold in Indiana.

Now, the recently retired lawmaker has taken a new job representing those companies.

Steele has been hired as executive director of the Vapor Association of Indiana, which represents the few companies licensed to manufacture electronic smoking device liquid under Indiana's stringent new law. The Bedford Republican is scheduled to start the job Jan. 1.

Steele, who did not seek re-election in November, said he sees no ethical issues with his new position.

“My job will be to make sure the association is run professionally and that we continue to assure the public that we have a safe product out on the shelves,” he said.

But the vapor association also will be actively lobbying at the Statehouse during the upcoming legislative session, raising questions about how Steele will follow a rule that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues for one year after leaving office.

That restriction is intended to prevent lawmakers from trading on their public service for private financial gain.

Steele said he intends to honor the rule by hiring an outside lobbying firm to represent the association at the General Assembly.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for government accountability group Common Cause Indiana, said the arrangement "reeks of impropriety.”

“It’s walking up right to the ethics laws and getting your toe just about as close as you possibly can,” she said.

Steele's new job places him at the center of a coming showdown over the new law. Legislative leaders have pledged to revisit it in response to a storm of criticism from dozens of companies that were effectively shut out of the Indiana market after operating here for years.

More from the story:
The new law — originally passed in 2015 and revised in March — effectively made a single security firm the gatekeeper of the industry. That security firm, Lafayette-based Malhaupt’s Inc., then approved only six companies for licenses.

The legislation drove companies that couldn't get licenses out of Indiana, and retailers have reported sharp increases in prices. The unusual nature of the legislation prompted the FBI to open an investigation into possible wrongdoing. * * *

The vapor association’s members include the six companies that received licenses and Malhaupt’s. It was originally set up by Zak Laikin, whose Indiana Vapor Company was the leading force behind the legislation.

Steele said he would be replacing Laikin as the association’s leader.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 15, 2016 09:44 AM
Posted to Indiana Government