Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 8, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: House Ethics chairman in tough spot politically

Lax rules complicate Turner hearing

Steering lawmakers through a rewrite of the state’s criminal code won House Judiciary Chairman Greg Steuerwald bipartisan accolades this year.

His colleagues appreciated how the even-tempered attorney from Hendricks County used his legal expertise and inclination toward consensus to deliver legislation that makes punishment more fitting of the crime.

It was an unenviable task: Police, prosecutors and public defenders were pulling on him, as were two chambers of politicians terrified of being seen as “soft on crime.”

His next act may be more difficult and yield less praise.

On Thursday, Steuerwald will preside over a public meeting of the House Ethics Committee to consider allegations that a high-ranking legislator in his own party privately killed a bill to help his family’s business.

House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, R-Cicero, stands accused of lobbying members in the final hours of the 2014 session to vote against a bill that would have put a moratorium on new nursing home construction. The ban would have hurt his family’s expanding nursing home business.

The alleged arm-twisting is said to have taken place behind closed doors, during Republican House caucus meetings deemed private by law and considered highly confidential by their participants.

Many factors complicate Steuerwald’s assignment:

The allegations were lodged by unhappy GOP lawmakers who spoke to Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco on the condition of anonymity. Those lawmakers are not expected to show up at the hearing for fear of being ostracized for violating the “gentlemen’s agreement” of zipped lips on caucus business.

Steuerwald has no subpoena power, and Turner isn’t expected to show up, either, though he’s vehemently denied he broke ethics rules. In a statement to the press, Turner pointed out he didn’t cast any votes on the legislation, in committee or on the House floor. And he’s been upfront about his family’s investments.

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