Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 22, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: Turner ethics case tests bounds of 'citizen legislature'

Lawmaker lobbied against plan that would've cost him millions

When a legislative ethics panel meets this week to review the case of House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, members could have trouble finding clear-cut answers, in large part because of the Indiana General Assembly’s status as a “citizen legislature.”

The House Ethics Committee is tasked with deciding whether Turner, a Cicero Republican, violated ethics rules when he lobbied against a proposed ban on the construction of new nursing homes during the final days of the 2014 session.

When House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, first asked the panel to review Turner’s actions, it appeared that Turner’s son — the president of nursing home developer Mainstreet Property Group — had the most to lose if the ban passed. But the Associated Press reported last week Turner makes upward of a million dollars on each new nursing home project through his 38 percent ownership stake in Mainstreet Property Group.

The ban would have cost Turner millions in potential profits from planned nursing homes in Indiana.

For his part, Turner has said in press statements 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.

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.

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